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Intrusive To Initiate Personal Comments

Judith Martin United Features S

Dear Miss Manners: During a job interview, I met with the vice-president of Human Resources, and it was obvious that she had a raspy voice and a cough. I assumed that she had a cold or other minor/temporary condition and waited for a cue (“Please excuse my voice - I have a cold”) to offer sympathy or concern.

When none came, I did not make any comment at all, assuming that she did not want to call attention to her situation. The interview ended 45 minutes later with absolutely no mention of her condition. Should I have made a comment (“Gee, that’s a nasty cough”) without waiting for a direct opening? Or did I behave appropriately?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is pleased to reassure you that you did not fail the job interview by demonstrating, in one well-meant statement, that you lacked both discretion and experience.

To initiate a personal comment, even a sympathetic one, to a job interviewer is intrusive. To assume that you can correctly diagnose a stranger as having a temporary cold, when her voice could be simply raspy or she could have a serious disease, is naive. Neither is a quality one looks for in an employee.

Dear Miss Manners: I am a single, financially comfortable woman of mature years. I am also pregnant.

I anticipate, as we live in an era where curiosity often reigns over manners, that I am likely (in what will be an increasingly common dilemma) to receive unwelcome and intrusive questions from my colleagues at work. I am hoping that you can help me craft mannerly replies pre-emptively for conversations that might go like this: Me: I am delighted to tell you that I am pregnant. I hope you can share some of my joy.

Colleague: When did you remarry?

Me: (a) I’m happily single for the moment, thank you.

(b) I knew I forgot something (accompanied by a light tap to my forehead with the palm of my hand).

(c) The Miss Manners polite but firm silence.

Colleague: I wasn’t aware you were dating.

Me: (a) How is your dear son? Is he over his cold?

(b) I’m very happy with the way things have turned out.

(c) The Miss Manners polite but firm silence.

Colleague: Who is the father?

Me: (a) I don’t believe you know him.

(b) A wonderful man who was aware that this was the intended outcome.

(c) The Miss Manners polite but firm silence.

Gentle Reader: It isn’t just during your pregnancy or only at work that you will have to learn to deal patiently with tiresome questions from someone who refuses to give up. Motherhood involves quite a bit of that.

Yet you probably don’t want to spend the entire next decade doing the home version of what you call the “Miss Manners polite but firm silence”: “Not now, dear. Can’t you see I’m busy?” So this would be a good time to practice keeping an open mind when listening to silly prattle, on the odd chance of hearing a question reasonable enough to require an answer.

It is not unreasonable, nor is it rude, to suppose that when a baby is to be born, there is a father involved. That doesn’t mean that you must answer questions about who he is, much less tolerate ones about how you achieved the result. But no matter how common unwed motherhood becomes, you cannot classify the assumption that an expectant mother is married as an affront to her dignity and honor.

The pre-emptive strike is to reply to that first question with “I didn’t; I’m a single mother.” Miss Manners hereby declares that the term “single mother” should always serve as notification that no further questions should be asked about the father.

Should that not discourage the second question, your reply of “I don’t believe you know him” is fine, or you could simply say, “We’re no longer together” and change the subject.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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