Social Q’s : Thy Neighbor’s Flag – Social Q’s

January 25th, 2013

I live on a suburban road. About a mile from me, a Confederate flag flies in the side yard of a house. The owner flies many small American flags in the front yard. But the Confederate flag bothers me as a symbol of slavery and segregation, and I suspect that people like me are not welcome there. I stopped to say something, but no one answered the door. What do you make of this?

John, Lenoir City, Tenn.

Let’s wait a sec before we call in Django and Quentin Tarantino (and the 34 cubic tons of fake blood that go hand-in-hand with unchaining them). I would never fly a Confederate flag for the reasons you suggest. But it sounds as if you may be describing a flag collector, not a white supremacist. Surely there’s a difference between displaying a multitude of American flags, including one Confederate model shunted off to the side lawn, and hanging one from the tippity top of a municipal building.

But who am I to rob you of your feelings — or prevent an awkward meeting between neighbors? If the flag really bothers you, visit again. Start with a pleasant introduction: “Hi, I’m John. I live about a mile down the road.” Then move onto disclaimer and polite request: “I have no right to tell you what to do in your own yard. But I’d appreciate it if you could rethink that Confederate flag.” Now for flattery and the big finish: “I’m sure you don’t mean it as a paean to slavery or segregation. But it hurts me when I drive by.”

If the neighbors refuse to remove it, excuse yourself politely and use MapQuest to find alternate driving routes. If they agree (or offer to think about it), thank them and move along. Perhaps they will alter their display. But even if not, you will have given a stranger the benefit of the doubt, and expressed your beliefs in a way that you can be proud of.

Carrot and Stick

My roommate is a vegan, and I am a vegetarian, for both moral and health reasons. Occasionally, I see her eating something I’m fairly certain isn’t vegan. A surprising amount of food, like candy corn, contains animal products. Is it rude for me to point out these slips, or should I speak up? If I were eating something non-vegetarian (other than marshmallows, which I allow myself), I’d like to know.

T. C., Washington

Excuse me while I finish my B.L.T. (Kidding! It’s actually my second B.L.T.) You make an interesting distinction between unknowing slips and guilty pleasures. With the former, your roommate may welcome your intervention. With the latter, she may find you a spoilsport or a scold.

Wait until neither of you is eating and say: “Other than marshmallows, which I adore, will you let me know if I am about to chow down on something non-vegetarian?” After she agrees, ask: “Would you like me to return the favor, or do you prefer to enjoy your slips in peace?” And thus will you know.

If Asked, Can’t Go

I am a 35-year-old woman. Last month, both of my divorced parents received elaborate invitations from a cousin for his daughter’s bat mitzvah. My two adult sisters and I did not. A few days ago, we received messages from our cousin, via Facebook, asking whether we planned to attend the event because they are finalizing the head count. I don’t believe that all three of our invitations were somehow lost in the mail. Am I really expected to respond to an event I was never invited to?

C.S.

So, you’ve landed on a theory that your cousin didn’t invite you, intentionally, and is now trying to cover it up with a cockamamie Facebook message? I don’t buy that any more than postal incompetence. It seems far likelier that the logistics of the occasion overwhelmed him, and your invitation slipped through the cracks. Reply (or pull out all the stops and phone him): “We didn’t receive an invitation, but we’d be delighted to come” — or we’re busy, as the case may be. Let she who has pulled off a big event without wrinkle cast the first stone.

Parting Word

A friend signs her text messages to me, “Love, Susie.” I feel as if a gun is being held to my head and guilty that I don’t return her love or her signoff. What to do?

Anonymous

Something tells me you have never had an actual gun to your head. Here’s hoping you never will. Folks develop habitual signoffs: “Best,” “Cheers,” “xo” — even “Love.” Develop a signature style for your pals and stick with it. Few correspondents will notice, and even fewer will care.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com or SocialQ on Facebook. You can also address your queries on Twitter to @SocialQPhilip. Please include a daytime phone number.

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