Miss Manners: Being civil doesn’t show approval

MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper way to greet a public figure, say a politician, whom you generally regard as, to put it politely, someone whose intelligence is lacking?

I love my job – I get to advocate for people with cancer – but often my place of employment is visited by men and women who hold office but whose views I find absolutely abhorrent, namely those who hold bigoted views on gay men and women.

In the past, I have just hidden in my office until whoever is gone, but I know I cannot get away with this forever. I’m not required to work with them, merely be introduced and exchange a few words.

What is the least amount of civility I am allowed to offer without seeming rude? I don’t want to put my colleagues in an awkward spot, and I don’t want to offend the visitors, despite their offenses toward others, but I don’t wish to be false. What should I do?

GENTLE READER: If this person were a mass murderer, you could refuse to shake hands and stalk off indignantly. For someone you describe as a garden-variety politician lacking in intelligence, Miss Manners considers that to be overkill as well as rude and – because you would have insulted a visitor to your office – bad for your career and your cause.

Unless the visitor’s staff has done disastrous advance work, there will be enough people who push to greet him or her to make it seem as if you are politely hanging back to give them the chance. If you cannot avoid an introduction, you need say only, “How do you do,” remembering not to lift the tone at the end, because it is not a question.

Some might notice the lack of adulation. Others will test your patience by assuming that everyone is fawning, and replying, “Thank you,” or even “I appreciate your support.” You should not answer back, but withdraw in dignity, with the comfort of knowing that you acted correctly, and perhaps demonstrated to your colleagues why you question the distinguished visitor’s intelligence.

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