DEAR MISS MANNERS: I know that it’s rude to tell people that they are being rude. But I have an acquaintance who has figured out how to use this rule to her advantage.
She will ask something intrusive or personal (e.g. “How much did you pay for your house?” or “Why don’t you want to have children?”) and, before I can hem and haw or change the subject, she will add, “Oh, but you don’t have to answer that if you think I’m rude for asking.”
Ha! See what she did there? Now, if I don’t answer her nosy question, I’m basically calling her rude, right?
GENTLE READER: Your acquaintance is not the etiquette expert she supposes. Like non-lawyers who read about a law and believe they have caught a logical fallacy overlooked by legal scholars – only to discover that law school teaches more than persnicketiness – your acquaintance may be surprised that she has trapped not you, but herself. What you think about your acquaintance’s behavior is not rude unless you give it actual voice. Instead, smile knowingly and change the subject.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I were excluded from a nephew’s wedding. We do not mind; my husband’s is a large family, and we understand the difficulties of managing competing needs and budgets when putting together wedding guest lists. We are at a more distant location than others who were included, and have only met the bride on one occasion.
There was an awkward moment or two (outside of the bride or groom’s presence) when other aunts and uncles assumed we were attending, and inquired about our travel plans. Those queries were smoothed over without hurt feelings.
Then I received an invitation to the bridal shower on a Sunday afternoon, nearly five hours away. Since attending would have required me to take a day off work for travel, I took pleasure instead in choosing and sending a gift, along with joyful best wishes.
But we began to wonder: Was it possible that an invitation to the wedding had gone missing in the mail? We reasoned that if an invitation was sent, in the absence of a response, they would have called us to inquire whether we were coming. Did we do right in not inquiring whether a wedding invitation was sent or intended?
Now, in the absence of an acknowledgment of the gift I sent, I also wonder if the gift was ever received by the bride. Asking whether it arrived would be embarrassing, and somehow feel like a reference to our absence at the wedding. How can I get over feeling … miffed?
GENTLE READER: Being in the etiquette business, Miss Manners can only indirectly help you unmiffle your own feelings about the situation – by providing a solution if the problem recurs.
Asking the bride if you were invited puts her in an untenable position if you were not. You may, however, ask a close common relative, so long as you make it clear that you are truly not offended if you were omitted, and that you are not fishing for an invitation. The same relative may be asked if the gift was ever received.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.
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