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Miss Manners: You know, you really shouldn't say 'should'

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Dear Miss Manners: I am a 48-year-old man with a new girlfriend who is 40. We each have two children. We’ve been together four months now. Things are going really well, so we decided to involve our children in the relationship.

I see a lot of differences in manners between the two families. One thing that is starting to perturb me somewhat is the use of the word “should.” My girlfriend uses it all the time, constantly: “You should do this” and “You should do that.” I recently met her dad, and now I know where she got it from. She comes by it honestly.

I try not to say “You should” or even “I should.” The former, to me, is rude. You are telling someone what to do, as if their way is inferior. It sets an expectation. You are trying to change them.

For the latter, telling myself “I should” sounds weak. I’m saying I really ought to do something a better way, but I don’t have the fortitude to do it. My girlfriend thinks my reasoning is crazy.

Is telling someone “you should” poor manners? Frankly, I’m growing tired of hearing her tell me what I “should” do.

Gentle Reader: Even doctors or advice columnists, would do well not to use “should” if for no other reason than the risk of being wrong. Miss Manners agrees that it is generally impolite, and its commanding and know-it-all nature is not worth the annoyance to the listener.

But as with so many verbal generalities, it is also situational, and common sense must prevail. A colleague of Miss Manners’ is fond of saying that no one wants a collaborative firefighter, debating whether or not one “could” exit a burning building. So let us also be careful not to overcorrect.

Dear Miss Manners: What is the proper way to eat rambutans?

Gentle Reader: With a porcupine. So that it can teach you its ways.

Dear Miss Manners: Please tell me, during what months is it appropriate to wear boots?

Gentle Reader: Whenever your feet would otherwise get wet. Miss Manners is not a weather forecaster, but she suggests you consult one.

Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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