DEAR MISS MANNERS: While I was at an outdoor gathering, another guest arrived, and began walking towards me to give me a customary kiss and hug. On the way, he passed by the buffet table, grabbed a handful of food and proceeded to shove it into his mouth. Only, not all of it managed to find its way in. Much of it was left on his lips, around his mouth and, of course, on his hand.
As he approached me, I backed away and begged off the kiss and hug. He seemed quite offended so, as politely and gently as I could, I informed him that he had food all over his mouth.
He then proceeded to wipe his mouth with his arm, said “There! All better now!” and moved towards me again. Well, it was NOT all better, but merely smeared around.
When I tried to escape him once again, trying very hard not to say something foolish, he became even more offended, then cursed and walked away. I avoided him for the rest of the get-together and he, me.
I still cringe when I think about it. I feel badly for offending him, but cannot help but think how offensive it would have been for ME to succumb to a messy, icky kiss.
Is there any way I could have handled the situation better? Or should I just hope that I do not have the pleasure of meeting up with him again – unless I’m ahead of the buffet table?
GENTLE READER: Please permit Miss Manners a moment of “eeewwww” before she pulls herself together and offers the polite sacrifice she might have made. Artfully suppressing her gag reflex, she would have offered her own handkerchief to the gentleman, holding it up in front of his face and, if necessary, offering to help.
However, not everyone is a martyr to courtesy, and, regretfully, not everyone carries a pocket handkerchief nowadays. But you could have backed away with a smile and said, “Let me get you a napkin.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A friend recently attempted suicide. His neck is now covered in very visible scars that cannot be easily concealed. He is concerned about unsolicited statements or comments regarding his physical appearance. These comments may be unintentionally hurtful.
You have suggested countering intrusive questions with “How kind of you to take an interest in my personal affairs.” But how might this gentleman respond differently under the circumstances? He does not wish, of course, to explain or engage in this line of questioning.
GENTLE READER: The phrase you quoted, while often useful, is intended to be directed to those who offer unsolicited criticism or officious advice. Miss Manners agrees that it is a bit harsh for those whose probing questions were intended as concern. Nevertheless, they must be discouraged from inquiry. A firm “Thank you, but it’s nothing you need worry about” should do it.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it appropriate for men to trim their eyebrows?
GENTLE READER: It is certainly preferable to having them careen around, bumping into the furniture.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.
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