DEAR MISS MANNERS: A couple of years ago, I finished an advanced degree in a rather specialized program from a prestigious university. Often, when I met new people and the topic of “What do you do?” came up, people would end by saying some variant of “Wow! You must be really smart!”
Now that I’m out of school, people still sometimes say this about my career. I’ve never figured out a polite and humble response, and always feel embarrassed. Saying “thank you” sometimes feels like I’m agreeing with them. If I try to dismiss the comment, it usually comes off as false humility. What should my response be?
GENTLE READER: The question is, as you have noticed, a booby trap, although the speaker may not have meant it as such. As with all ambushes, the proper response is to get as far away as fast you can – figuratively, not literally.
Talk about how much you enjoy what you do – “It is always challenging!” – and then change the subject. It would be natural to reciprocate by asking what your interlocutors studied, but Miss Manners cautions against this. Learning that the flatterer is a dropout will make your predicament worse, not better.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My aesthetician kept me waiting for the length of my recent appointment, while someone else, who was either late or a walk-in, received her treatment. I was unable to wait “just 10 more minutes,” as I had another appointment elsewhere. Was she rude, or am I overly sensitive?
GENTLE READER: Professionals frequently complain to Miss Manners about their clients’ inability to arrive on time. Too often, they fail to see the even more common reverse problem.
An appointment is a two-way commitment. A doctor, lawyer or aesthetician who keeps customers waiting, without both a good reason and an apology, should not expect Miss Manners’ help when their next appointment refuses to stop talking on the phone.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it appropriate to give a roommate a thank-you card upon moving out?
I am living in my college’s dorm, in a shared room with three other people. While the individuals across the hall have caused almost constant problems in terms of messiness, excessive noise and petty fights about chore charts, the roommate on my side of the dorm has been genuinely fantastic. We keep vastly different schedules and aren’t close enough to really be friends, but we’ve bonded over the fight to keep the communal areas clean, and get along great on the occasions we are able to talk.
When the semester is over, I am wondering if it would be acceptable to give her a thank-you card, or even a small gift, when we move out for the summer. We will have different assigned rooms next semester, and I want to somehow show my appreciation for how delightful it has been to live with her. Would a thank-you card be appropriate? Or just weird?
GENTLE READER: It might be misunderstood, which is worse. Miss Manners herself might take exception at being thanked for moving out. Tell your roommate how much you enjoyed living with her and that you hope to remain friends, even without a shared cause of complaint.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.
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