February 2, 2009 in Features

Take well-meant remarks graciously

Judith Martin

Dear Miss Manners: I’m one of two employees at a lovely local boutique that has, unfortunately, become a victim of our soured economy. We have officially been going out of business – hideous yellow signs and all – for just over two weeks now.

While we appreciate that customers routinely express their condolences, we have already dealt with the emotional side and moved on. It seems that many customers are dismayed or confused when we don’t echo their pouty faces or saddened shrugs.

We don’t want to seem ungrateful for their well-wishes, nor do we want to look cold and uncaring. But we also don’t wish to put on a dramatic show for every third visitor to the store. What should we say?

A surprising number of people ask us each what we’ll do when the store closes. These are not regular customers with whom we’ve grown close, and often are people who are only just visiting the store for the first time, so it feels particularly intrusive.

The simple answer is, we’re both doing what many people across the entire country are doing: searching frantically for new employment. I understand that the question isn’t meant to be patronizing or rude, but it feels that way.

Am I wrong in feeling that this is an inappropriate, overly personal question? And what is the best way for us – and the many who are in our same predicament – to address it?

Gentle Reader: Rule one when you are frantically searching for new employment: Do not brush off sympathetic people.

You should not be doing this anyway. Simple courtesy requires that you accept kindly intended remarks, however often you have heard them. Miss Manners hardly thinks it would require “a dramatic show” to thank people and say that you, too, regret the closing.

As for what to say when asked what you are doing next – Miss Manners would consider that a legitimate reply would be, “I’m looking. If you hear of anything, please let me know.”

Dear Miss Manners: This woman, let’s call her Annette, married a divorced man who had a married daughter with two children. She insists that her husband’s daughter is her daughter-in-law, her husband’s son-in-law is her son-in-law and their two children are her grandchildren.

Not so fast, Annette. I don’t believe they are “any” relation, but possibly she could call them “step” daughter-in-law, and simply continue to use the word “step” to make them some sort of a relation. Please, is she “any” relation to her husband’s relations?

Gentle Reader: You wouldn’t happen to be the husband’s former wife, would you? It was the quotation marks around “any” that tipped off Miss Manners.

If this is correct, let her assure you that the stepmother’s nomenclature does not affect your position as mother, mother-in-law and grandmother. She is related to these people by marriage, even if you are both mistaken about applying the “in-law” part to her husband’s daughter. No one should be following her around making sure she gets that “step” part in.

Dear Miss Manners: When entering a formal gathering in a procession, is the lady on the left or the right of the gentleman?

Gentle Reader: A lady is at the right of a gentleman except, Miss Manners notes, when the lady is in the very act of marrying him. She stands at his left during the ceremony so that she can take his right arm when they turn around and thus begin married life correctly.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@ unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016 or (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.

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