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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Miss Manners: Deflecting DNA discussions

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin Andrews McMeel Syndication

DEAR MISS MANNERS: More and more frequently, one is at a social gathering or at work and someone approaches with their latest DNA results on their phone. They then proceed to give you all the details of what percent they or their relatives are, in various ethnic categories, as revealed to them by an online company.

Given the ethnicity of the person I am talking to, I am usually not all that amazed at their results, due to knowing something about past European/Asian/African history and the shifting of populations through the ages for multiple reasons.

How can one politely inform these new recipients of DNA information that their findings are not all that amazing? I try to shift topics, but they seem intent on sharing their DNA backgrounds. Am I compelled by social etiquette to respond to their statement that they are less than .1 percent of a certain ethnicity, or whatever?

GENTLE READER: Yes, but fortunately not for long. You are obliged to say “How interesting!” before turning the conversation to something relevant, but still of general interest. And in this case, the subject could be human migration patterns.

Time was, when people were eager to bore others with details of their personal lives, they had to lure them home and feed them before showing movies of vacations or grandchildren. Now everyone can whip out a cellphone full of personal material. And you have identified a whole new topic. It was always possible to speak of one’s ancestors – once considered a classical sign of a bore – but then it rarely meant going back many centuries.

Anyway, Miss Manners reminds you of the all-purpose defense against being handed someone else’s device: Refuse it with the regretful statement, “No, no – I’m so clumsy, I may drop it.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am not in the best financial position, making hourly wages and being 63 years old. My daughter invited me to Mother’s Day lunch, and my son invited me for Mother’s Day dinner. Am I supposed to bring presents to both my daughter and my daughter-in-law???

GENTLE READER: Surely it is only that they wish to honor you.

Well, maybe. The sweet concept of honoring one’s mother keeps spreading. Many husbands have adopted the habit of honoring their wives as mothers of their children, which seems not unreasonable as they have to help young children do this anyway.

But some mothers expect a bizarre U-turn, in which their mothers and mothers-in-law should honor them. And eventually, the concept became so diffused as to be applied to nearly everyone who is, or could be, a mother. Any female will do; those who are childless or bereaved complain of strangers presuming their maternal happiness.

Leaving aside the disdain that Miss Manners’ own dear mother had for Mother’s Day (on the grounds that there existed no day on which mothers should NOT be honored), things have gone too far.

You need only enjoy the arrangements that your children have made in your honor. No presents are necessary. But it would be gracious of you to take the opportunity to say some admiring words about the mothers of your grandchildren.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106