DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have, on half a dozen occasions over the years, been asked by total strangers (usually salesclerks, etc.): “Are you two brothers?” We are somewhat stymied by how to respond and are seeking your advice.
We look roughly as similar as do any two people of the same race, socioeconomic class and gender – my husband doesn’t look very much at all like my actual brother.
Clearly part of the “problem” is our gender: I know many heterosexual couples who look (to my eyes) very similar, but when a man and a woman are traveling together, it is assumed that they are in a romantic relationship (also a problematic assumption).
In any case, our response so far has been to look at the offending questioner with a slightly perplexed expression (but still a smile) and say, “No.” If the conversations were not so brief, or if we had any expectation of interacting with the same person ever again, we might perhaps be moved to say something more, like, “No, we’re married.”
Does Miss Manners suggest we adopt the latter response as our primary one?
As you have noticed, continuing the guessing game by saying “no” offers unnecessary encouragement to nosiness. For that matter, any answer invites more probing, and you are under no obligation to strangers, to whom you can say, “I don’t believe we know you.” But she sees no other possible objection to your simply stating that you are married.
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