Miss Manners: She told me I’m going to hell. How do I proceed?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My goddaughter started attending a fundamentalist church with very strict rules. Fine for her, but she wrote to me that since I go to a different kind of church, I am doomed to hell unless I join hers.

I was insulted! This letter came out of the blue, and we only have limited time together, as she lives far away.

I waited a month to cool down before writing back. By the way, her mother goes to a different church and was not told she’s doomed.

I’m finding it hard to forgive my goddaughter, and I wonder how to proceed.

GENTLE READER: Your goddaughter’s church evidently enforces some rules more strictly than others: “Doing unto others” is being interpreted rather loosely, for instance, as Miss Manners is confident your goddaughter would not welcome being told that it is she, not you, who is in for an unpleasant surprise.

The correct response is one of the few good uses for the non-apology, “I am sorry you feel that way.” No doubt that is what the letter that you already sent says.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Several decades ago, I became friendly with a family who lived nearby. Over time, that family has become my “family of choice” — that is, people to whom I am as close as my family of origin, if not closer.

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When I talk about members of my family of choice with others, I do not make a distinction between the two groups. I talk about my by-choice brother, niece and nephews the same way I talk about my relatives by blood. And the feeling is mutual: My brother-of-choice has introduced me as his brother; my niece and nephews call me “Uncle,” and so on.

But on occasion, someone will ask, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a younger brother!” or “Wait, so what’s their relationship to you?”

I often just say, “Actually, they’re my family of choice” and move on, but is there a better way to do this? It can be tough to explain, and leaves some people scratching their heads.

GENTLE READER: You get points for not being, as some would, angry at the head scratchers. But that does not change Miss Manners’ answer: Language is a shared means of communication and when you unilaterally redefine common words, you will have to explain what you mean, patiently.

Explaining the virtue in why you made the change is not prohibited, but it is not an acceptable substitute.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the polite way to tend to necessary household chores (vacuuming, floor mopping, bathroom cleaning, etc.) when you are hosting guests for several days, and they refuse your suggestions of a lovely walk, a good movie or a visit to a cute shop so that you could take care of things in their brief absence?

It seems impolite to clean around guests, but equally impolite not to keep things tidy during their stay.

GENTLE READER: After suggestions for an outside activity or relocating to another room have been ignored, you may vacuum around them — so long as you do not intentionally run over any toes.

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Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, [email protected]; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.