July 21, 2010 in Features

Miss Manners: Leave job with dignity intact

Judith Martin Syndicated columnist

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband is leaving – that is, he’s been railroaded out of – a prominent job as a public servant in a small town. He has been very badly treated, and we are angry and hurt but are trying to hold on to our dignity. I want to give everyone within earshot a piece of my mind, but I know it won’t do any good; their minds are closed.

What can I say when people ask why we are moving on? I want to take the high road and give them as little material as possible for the gossip mill.

There is no other job in sight at this point, so we can’t say that; he is just beginning a search. We need agreeable-sounding phrases that are not lies, and I’m stumped.

GENTLE READER: Not “He’s planning to spend more time with his family.” They’re on to that one, to the extent that it will start rumors of divorce.

They are also on to “doing consulting,” at least in Washington, where that means “out of office.” And “Looking at his options” is unkindly interpreted to mean that he doesn’t have any worth talking about.

In your case, Miss Manners would actually advise saying, “He’s out of office right now.”

Not that she thinks you owe anyone such bald truth. Her reasoning is: first, that as it is a small town, everyone knows the situation, so any euphemism will sound defensive; second, that it may remind those who feel he was treated unfairly to help.

However, Miss Manners understands that what you are really after is a safe form of revenge. All right, it is “Well, he’s thinking of writing a book.”

Now don’t tell her that this is a lie. Everyone who feels badly treated is thinking of writing a book about it. And it never fails to get the rattled attention of those who mistreated the aspiring author.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband claims I am too sensitive; I say other people are rude. Here is an example of an event that perfectly highlights my point:

As my husband introduced an acquaintance to me, the acquaintance stuck out his hand and said, “I’m sorry.”

I responded with, “I’m not.” The acquaintance was a little taken aback and later mentioned to my husband (I was no longer nearby) that he was sorry to make me feel uncomfortable.

Later that evening, at home, my husband said that I am too sensitive to people doing this.

But my response is: Why do they think it’s OK? They don’t know me, but I guess they think I will find it funny to make fun of my husband.

I understand that people use humor to make potentially awkward situations a little smoother, but all this does is get me riled up. Why can’t people simply say, “Nice to meet you” instead of trying to be funny?

GENTLE READER: If this is what passes for wit among your husband’s acquaintance, Miss Manners does not wonder that you are dismayed. It must be rather tedious to hear that sort of thing.

She recommends falling back on another standard remark, but one that has the advantage of flummoxing its target: a sweetly rendered, “But he speaks so highly of you.”

You 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.

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