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Monstrous Mother-in-Law

I couldn't resist writing about an email that recently went viral in the UK and now the world. A Mrs. Carolyn Bourne sent it to her future step-daughter-in-law, a Ms. Heidi Withers. Given the email's serpent's tongue tone, it's understandable that Heidi felt she had no other recourse but to send it on to a couple of close friends. Even if it's not proper to forward private correspondence, it was better than responding in kind to her. Plus, the risk of your correspondence going viral is reason alone that one doesn't write unkind things in emails.

First, immediately upon reading the email below, I knew Mrs. Bourne was one of two personality types. Due to her interest with manners, tradition and protocol, I'd say she's a Classic (SJ) like me or possibly a Smart (NT) who had a martini or three before writing and sending it. In addition, the sharpness of her tongue and seeming inability to hold said tongue means she's likely an extraverted Classic Structure (STJ) or extraverted Smart Structure (NTJ). But, I don't want to malign entire personality types and I'm betting there's some "other stuff" going on with Mrs. Bourne beyond personality type differences.

On first blush, Mrs. Bourne seems to have a point that Heidi lacks some basic manners — helping oneself to seconds as a guest in someone's home, neglecting to write thank you notes — but this all belies the fact that Mrs. Bourne is breaking an even more fundamental manners' rule of thumb by writing the email in the first place. Isn't it a well known fact amongst all well mannered citizens of the world that when you point out someone else's lack of manners you point out your lack thereof?

I will not even go into Mrs. Bourne's tirade about Heidi's diabetes. Baffling. Read the text below and then my final two cents of advice to both ladies.

Text courtesy of Digital Spy

from: Carolyn Bourne

to: heidi withers

subject: your lack of manners

It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.

I am being kept awake - or woken early - by Edward [Freddie's father] who is so profoundly upset by your behavior on your recent visit that he is depressed and anxious.

Unfortunately for Freddie, he has fallen in love with you and Freddie being Freddie, I gather it is not easy to reason with him or yet encourage him to consider how he might be able to help you. It may just be possible to get through to you though. I do hope so. Your behavior on your visit to Devon during April was staggering in its uncouthness and lack of grace. Unfortunately, this was not the first example of bad manners I have experienced from you. If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste. There are plenty of finishing schools around. You would be an ideal candidate for the Ladette to Lady television series. Please, for your own good, for Freddie's sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.

Here are a few examples of your lack of manners:

When you are a guest in another's house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat - unless you are positively allergic to something.

You do not remark that you do not have enough food.

You do not start before everyone else.

You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.

When a guest in another's house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early - you fall in line with house norms.

You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter.

I have no idea whether you wrote to thank [your future sister-in-law] for the weekend but you should have hand-written a card to her.

You should have hand-written a card to me. You have never written to thank me when you have stayed at Houndspool.

[Your future sister-in-law] has quite the most exquisite manners of anyone I have ever come across. You would do well to follow her example.

You regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why.

It is tragic that you have diabetes. However, you aren't the only young person in the world who is a diabetic. I know quite a few young people who have this condition, one of whom is getting married in June. I have never heard her discuss her condition. She quietly gets on with it. She doesn't like being diabetic. Who would? You do not need to regale everyone with the details of your condition or use it as an excuse to draw attention to yourself. It is vulgar.

As a diabetic of long standing you must be acutely aware of the need to prepare yourself for extraordinary eventualities, the walk to Mothecombe beach being an example. You are experienced enough to have prepared yourself appropriately.

No-one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity style behavior.

I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters' marriages.) If this is the case, it would be most ladylike and gracious to lower your sights and have a modest wedding as befits both your incomes.

One could be accused of thinking that Carolyn must be patting herself on the back for having caught a most eligible young man. I pity Freddie.

My advice to Heidi is a bit American a.k.a. Celebrity Style behavior. Hire a lawyer and get a pre-nuptial agreement that pays you $10,000 for each forced visit with Mrs. Carolyn Bourne, $500/hour for every hour beyond the first and time and a half for any visit that lasts longer than 8 hours. This way, you can relax during the wedding ceremony knowing that Mrs. Bourne's presence is paying for the caterer.

My advice to Mrs. Bourne is to remember the cardinal rule of manners — if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.

Originally published July 3, 2011

Monstrous Monster-in-Law

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