Miss Manners: Change subject to silence dinner party boor

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a political appointee. At a dinner party recently where I was a guest, one of the other guests asked about a controversial policy issue relevant to my agency.

I attempted to answer factually, but this seemed to inflame the guest further (she had had quite a lot to drink already) and ended with her insisting that I was fabricating information and delivering propaganda. After the event, the other guests told me that they were appalled by her behavior.

What should one do in that circumstance, when the dinner party conversation is overtaken by a belligerent boor who accuses another guest of lying? Should the recipient of the insult have any particular response?

GENTLE READER: You didn’t get much help there, did you? Apparently the hosts said nothing, and the guests only sympathized from a safe distance when it was over.

Miss Manners guesses that everyone was afraid to invoke the etiquette rule against discussing politics, religion or sex at social functions (except among people who are known to be in agreement or unfailingly polite). They know that someone is bound to ask witheringly, “Well, what are we supposed to talk about? The weather?”

No. Too controversial. Climate change is only too likely to provoke an emotional argument.

As the host did not say, “This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion,” and the other guests did not quickly begin another topic, you should have done so.


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