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Miss Manners: Professional rejection requires manners, etiquette nice touch

Wed., April 1, 2009

Dear Miss Manners: As the managing partner of a law firm, I receive a steady stream of (mostly) unsolicited letters from attorneys seeking a position at the firm. I say “mostly,” because occasionally we advertise for an attorney with specific qualifications, e.g., expertise in water law.

Yet, even when the advertisement is very specific, I receive dozens of letters and résumés from attorneys who do not meet the specified qualifications. Clearly, these people are simply taking a shot in the dark and hoping for the best. Do good manners and etiquette require me to respond to all these letters?

Gentle Reader: Funny that you should ask about the obligations of both manners and etiquette. Miss Manners makes a distinction between them, with manners being the principles of courteous behavior and etiquette being the particular rules that apply to a particular situation.

No, etiquette does not require that you reply to unsolicited job applications. However, it does require a response to candidates you have interviewed, a courtesy often neglected.

But Miss Manners begs you to consider the state of mind of the job seeker: hope, followed by increasingly painful doubt. Finally, the silence indicates that the application, complete with this person’s professional history and hopes, was regarded as trash. Could you not find a minute to say “Sorry, we’re looking for an expert in water law”? Even people who don’t follow instructions have feelings.

Dear Miss Manners: While having dinner, a friend of mine pointed out my lack of manners. Let me explain. While eating with my right hand, I use the left hand as a “shelf/barrier,” underneath the fork or spoon in the opposite hand. I do this to prevent spillage on my blouse.

Is this inappropriate? Should I wear a bib? Ha! Do you have any suggestions about this eating technique and/or what to say to my eating companion? Now, every time I eat with this friend, I am paranoid that she is watching my every move.

Gentle Reader: It is no fun to dine with a critic, Miss Manners agrees. But neither does it sound like fun to dine across from cascading food.

Eating is a basic survival skill and is worth your learning. Presumably you do not have a medical problem, or your friend would know about it. Surely you could practice putting less food on your fork and bringing it up slowly as a more efficient way of preventing spillage on your blouse.

Dear Miss Manners: Our friend just called to tell us his wife had a miscarriage. My husband told me to send flowers, and I said I wonder if it is appropriate to send flowers because it might be a reminder. What is the proper thing to do? And if we should send flowers, what would you suggest we put on the card?

Gentle Reader: That fear of “reminding” people of a tragedy they have suffered should never be a consideration. Trust Miss Manners, they have not forgotten. What they need to be reminded is that other people care and sympathize. So do, please, send those flowers, with a card that says that you are thinking of them and send your love.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.

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