Dear Annie: My parents live in a tiny Midwestern town with one restaurant. It's a mom and pop place with really delicious food, and many of the locals are regulars, including my parents. The owner, "Martina," is extremely sweet and accommodating and does most of the work including the cooking. Her husband, on the other hand, does very little except sit down at the tables with customers and annoy them. He brings up politics, religion and other topics that repeatedly offend customers. It's the Midwest, so everyone is too polite to say, "GO AWAY!" They also really enjoy Martina and her cooking. No one wants to hurt her feelings, so no one has let her know that he's driving away business with his behavior.
Martina seems oblivious to how much he annoys people. She mentions how tight money is and how hard it is to stay above water in her business, and I want to tell her that banning her husband would certainly improve her income. Is there a polite way to do so?
Personally, I can't stand him and only get carryout when I visit my parents, but I know that the locals appreciate having a place to catch up with neighbors and prefer to eat there. Several have stopped going because of him. Is there a way to let her know how he's affecting her bottom line without offending her? — Ban the Booth Bully
Dear Ban the Booth Bully: I'm sure this woman is aware her husband is a thorn in her restaurant's side. If he's that prickly in public, just imagine what a bramble he is at home. Perhaps her seeming obliviousness is a coping mechanism: She can't convince her husband to change his behavior, so she does her best to tune it out. So rather than go to her with the issue, I think you ought to address it right at the source. The next time you're in town, dine in at the restaurant. If and when this bully tries to push his way into your conversation, summon up the courage to push back (with words, of course). Politely but firmly say, "I'm not interested in discussing politics or religion," or "Respectfully, my parents and I haven't seen each other in a while and would like some time to catch up on our own here," or something to that effect. Once word gets around, others may follow suit. At the very least, you'll have given Martina something to point to should her husband insist that customers don't mind his antics.
Remember: It's not rude to stand up to rudeness.
Dear Annie: I am writing in response to the advice you gave to the letter writer "A Little Gratitude." The letter writer was very frustrated at the double standard her mother had regarding the giving and receiving of packages via the mail.
In short, it's a petty, childish problem and not worth getting upset over.
If that's all it takes to frustrate someone they should count their blessings. Either they have way too much time on their hands or way too little stress in their life. I wasted way too many years on similar circumstances with my mother, who was suffering from a form of dementia for nearly 20 years before it was diagnosed. There were not the usual, obvious symptoms. Psychological disorders are abundant and have no age limits.
Confronting someone over such matters rarely results in a positive outcome. You can't control what other people do, only the way you react to it. — Been There, Done Enough of That
Dear Been There: That is perhaps the single universal piece of advice. It's a point worth reminding ourselves of on the regular, and I appreciate your bringing it up.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]