Embrace differences – once or twice

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 28, 2009

Dear Miss Manners: Because my job is to embrace cultural differences, I try to keep an open mind – especially when it comes to food. However, I had a host who was preparing a food I know very well (it was not exactly a specialty of the region I was touring) and asked if I like it, which I most certainly do not. Because she was already well into her preparations, I didn’t want her to feel obligated to make me something different, so I panicked and said that I didn’t know it, and only took a small portion at dinner, reacting neutrally to it. For the rest of the week, she continued to serve me this food.

What would have been the polite thing to say in order to avoid this uncomfortable situation?

Gentle Reader: Was she preparing it in a pot the size of an oil drum?

The first time you were stuck, Miss Manners agrees. Perhaps even the second time, because you could hardly have expected a second dose. But surely that was the time to say, “Please allow me to take you out to dinner tomorrow. I’d like to try some of the regional specialties.”

Dear Miss Manners: I work in a scheduling center for a large medical practice. We have a computer system that looks up patients by their last names and birthdays. After the computer searches, it gives me a list of results. I will typically ask, “Is this (insert first name here)?”

However, sometimes the patient will have a first name that I cannot pronounce. Is it better to give it a try and attempt to say the name, or is it better to ask for their first name as well as the last? Some patients seem thrilled when I guess (especially if I get it right), but others just seem annoyed.

Gentle Reader: Why is this a problem? If you do not know how to pronounce their names, Miss Manners assures you that you are not on sufficiently intimate terms with them to address them by their first names.

Should you have trouble with a surname, you can add, after trying it, “Did I pronounce that right?” But Miss Manners forbids you to use that technique as an excuse to call patients by their first names.

Dear Miss Manners: What is the proper way to respond to someone who tells you they “love” you when you don’t necessarily feel the same way about them?

I don’t mean in a romantic situation. Recently, my father’s wife has started telling me she loves me and ending phone calls that way. We don’t see each other very often and haven’t known each other very long. While we have a perfectly cordial relationship, I don’t feel love for her.

My reply is usually an awkward, “It’s been great to talk to you” or “take care.” These conversation enders make me uncomfortable. I sense she’s expecting reciprocation and is sad when it doesn’t come. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but don’t feel right professing love I don’t feel.

Gentle Reader: You may be able to get away with am enthusiastically declared compliment, such as “You’re wonderful.”

In a romantic situation, the you’re-such-a-nice-person approach translates as “Forget it.” But Miss Manners is guessing that your stepmother is hoping merely for acceptance, which can be conveyed in other ways.

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

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