Dear Annie: A couple with whom I have a very close relationship have recently become friends with their new neighbors. These neighbors are retired from successful careers, have been U.S. residents for at least 50 years and are financially comfortable. I am grateful to be included in invitations with my close friends and the neighbors, and I have often invited the neighbors to join my close friends and me at my house. The problem is that the neighbors always want to turn the conversation around to what a horrible early life they had when they were children in Germany during World War II. It seems they have no end to their horrific stories of such things as frozen babies lying dead on the road. I find this subject of conversation extremely upsetting and feel it is inappropriate in a social gathering.
Annie, I know that the neighbors experienced some very difficult times, and I don't want to be unsympathetic or unkind. However, I do not discuss my traumatic life issues over cocktails. The most recent time the neighbors started going on and on about their tragic childhood, I asked to be excused before dinner because I was "not feeling well." And truth be told, after hearing about such graphic things, I was really not feeling well. In the future, would it be appropriate for me to interrupt these lengthy tales of woe by saying, "I am so sorry that you had to endure all that, but could we talk about something more pleasant?" No one else ever feels free to change the subject. I am not close with this couple, so I am not in a position to speak with them privately about this. -- Dinner Table Talk
Dear Dinner Table Talk: If dinner parties were kept to pleasant and safe conversations, they could get pretty boring very fast. Sometimes, hearing about people's hardships can bring you closer. Maybe you yourself could feel more open or vulnerable enough to share some of your hardships with them and your friends. Being human is about being kind and trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. Strive to be more sympathetic. But when the conversation becomes far too dark for too long, you can just try to subtly change the subject. No need to call attention to the previous topic's unpleasantness.
If they never get the hint and the conversation is constant despair, then speak with your friends. Tell them how much you care about them, but let them know that their neighbors are just not your cup of tea. Not every person in the world is meant to be our friend. There is nothing wrong with not caring much for your friends' friends.
Dear Annie: Would you please print the following for your readers who are clearing out closets and cupboards to donate for the holidays?
1) Please wash all clothing. It is awful to reach in the pocket of a donated item and take out someone else's dirty tissue.
2) If the clothing is stained and you cannot get the stain out, please discard it in the rag bag at home. The poor do not need stains or broken zippers any more than you do.
3) If donating kitchen items, vases, planters or artificial plants, please make sure the items have been cleaned first.
4) Check games and puzzles. Indicate by a note all pieces included. -- Diane
Dear Diane: Thank you for the helpful tips we should all keep in mind during this giving season.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org.