January 21, 1998 in Food

Tell Students It’s Not Unusual

Judith Martin United Features S

Dear Miss Manners: My son and I have different last names (I am divorced from his father and remarried), and I would like to know how to represent myself at my son’s elementary school, where I frequently volunteer.

When I was there last, the children didn’t seem to understand, and in front of the class, the teacher said she didn’t know how to handle the situation and asked me to please explain! I saw my son rest his chin on his desk in embarrassment. Divorce is difficult enough for children without my son having to inform all his peers about his personal business.

I explained as simply as I could, but they continued to call me by my son’s last name. Do I have to explain every year to a new class, or is there an easier resolution to this?

Gentle Reader: It gives Miss Manners no satisfaction to tell you that this problem will soon take care of itself. Your son must be attending the only school in the country where the children are unacquainted with divorce, and the statistical likelihood of its remaining so is mighty small.

Unfortunately, these children are likely to remain ignorant of etiquette, at least under the tutelage of such a teacher. It’s not just that she gives up rather than explain to the children something as useful as the fact that not all parents and children have the same last names. What shocks Miss Manners is that the teacher has no compunctions about embarrassing people - not only a parent and volunteer, but one of her own pupils.

You would do the class a service by explaining that it is not unusual these days to have different surnames in the same family, for a variety of reasons - the mother’s retaining or resuming the use of her maiden name for personal or professional reasons, as well as her remarrying after widowhood or divorce.

Should they inquire about your own case, you will have the opportunity to give them a deeper etiquette lesson as well. In a kindly way that will not embarrass whoever put the question to you, you should explain that the polite thing to do is to address people by the names they use, without trying to make them explain why.

Dear Miss Manners: My job requires that I phone many people at their offices, and most of them supply me with their phone numbers so I can do just that - or rather, they think they have.

What they’ve actually given me is the company’s switchboard number - perfectly adequate in the days when that number reached an actual switchboard, manned by an actual person who would know the party’s extension. Today, it usually reaches an automated callhandling system that will only put you through if you already know the extension - which almost no one bothers to provide. If the call is urgent, I sometimes have to call several people at random in an attempt to find someone who’s actually at their desk and can forward my call. This, I realize, is an unnecessary bother to the other people.

If business people could only remember to give their extensions to anyone they actually want to hear from, this problem would largely disappear. And business people who do not think it is a problem should try calling in from outside sometime to understand what callers face.

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners has long predicted the day when no one will ever answer a telephone, and she, for one, will not cast blame. All that incessant ringing is a nuisance when one is trying to work or nap, and the more often the telephone call is replaced by e-mail, the calmer we will all be.

But for those who use it, you make an excellent point. Miss Manners will join you in reminding people who give out such numbers to include their extensions, and add the suggestion that those who ask for numbers remind them as well.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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