Mom, Can’t We Speak English Here?

When we visit my mother, she speaks to me in Hungarian, her native language, in front of my husband who doesn’t understand a word of it. He told me he feels excluded by this because he can’t participate in our conversations. I’ve told my mother her behavior is rude, but she persists, saying, “I am Hungarian, and this is my house.” She is fluent in English, so she could honor our request if she wanted to. Also, she and I speak on the phone frequently. If she had something private to say to me, she could do it then. Otherwise, she’s nice to my husband. Any advice?


Many people get defensive about criticism. (It’s pretty human actually, even if annoying.) And this is your mother. So, presumably, you’re willing to take a few extra steps to make things right. Rather than calling her behavior rude, which it assuredly is, talk to her privately about your husband’s feelings.

Say, “He enjoys our visits with you but feels hurt when we exclude him by speaking Hungarian. Can we use English when he’s around?” Framing the issue this way may help her sympathize with your husband and (with a few gentle reminders) go along with your request.

If she still refuses to speak English during your visits, your mother may be waging a small war for dominance over your husband. Shut that down! Tell her: “Making him feel unwelcome by cutting him out of our conversations only means he’ll be less willing to visit. And if he visits less frequently, so will I.”

With luck (and a bit of self-interest), your mother may see the light. If she won’t be persuaded, though, give your husband dispensation from further visits and let him know you tried your best. Stubbornness is no excuse for letting anyone treat our partners disrespectfully.

P.P.E. Problems

I am a physician assistant working at an urgent care facility. I test patients for coronavirus frequently. I wear appropriate personal protective equipment all day, every day: double masks, gown, gloves and face shield. Still, I managed to contract the virus two months ago and pass it to my boyfriend. We caught it early, isolated for two weeks and did not give it to his roommates. But since then, the roommates have told him (in effect) he shouldn’t come home if he is still seeing me. What should we do?


Oh, how we love our frontline workers — from a distance! Schedule a Zoom call with your boyfriend and his roommates. Walk them through the safety measures you take — “all day, every day,” as you put it — and see if that reassures them. Give them a chance to ask questions.

Their fear isn’t irrational. But with transparency and open dialogue, they may realize that indirect contact with you is probably safer than living with someone who is careless about masks or who goes to house parties or indoor rallies. Even if you don’t persuade them, you will have done what you can to bring clarity to the conflict.

My Home Isn’t Free Storage

My 24-year-old daughter lives with three roommates. She asked if she could store some furniture at my apartment because she didn’t have room for it. I am already overwhelmed with her belongings at my place, so I said no — which I shouldn’t have done. She told me she could get a storage locker for $40 a month. Now, it turns out the storage locker is $200 a month, and she signed a five-month contract. I wrote her a check for $1,000, but she refuses to accept it and remains furious at me. I feel terrible! What can I do to repair this situation?


Stop babying your adult child! If you are overwhelmed with her belongings at your place, it was reasonable to refuse taking more of them, especially if you believed, as she told you, that she could solve the problem for $40 a month.

Now that you know she misreported the cost of the storage locker, your offer to pay the entire expense seems downright generous to me. If your daughter prefers to nurse a childish grudge, though, there’s not much you can do to stop her. As a practical matter, being forced to pay cash from her own pocket may prompt a steely-eyed edit of the belongings she really wants to keep.

No-Smoking Zone

I live in a townhome community where every unit has a small patio. My next-door neighbor steps onto my patio to smoke in front of my sliding glass door. I am working remotely, so as I sit at my table, I see her standing there with a cigarette. During the last few years, she has suffered from mental health issues, and I’ve tried to be supportive. How do I stop her from smoking on my patio?


By asking her nicely to smoke on her own patio. I admire your sensitivity, but nearly one in five American adults lives with a mental illness. That’s no reason to treat your neighbor as if she were made of spun sugar or unable to observe reasonable neighborly boundaries.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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