DEAR MISS MANNERS: I know people are being nice when they ask if I had a nice Christmas, but I didn’t. My husband is dead, my only sibling is dead, my youngest child is dead and my other child is not having anything to do with me because I sold my home and moved to a smaller one. And I have a mother in a nursing home with dementia, who picked Christmas day to kick me hard in the shin three times when I was trying to help her.
When people ask about my Christmas, I just say, “It was OK.” Should I tell them how I really felt about that day?
GENTLE READER: Only if your intention is to ruin theirs.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Over the years, I have been asked to give advice on various people’s paths through life, based on my own. There is no conversation I am less inclined to have, since I have little available time, am repelled by the idea of discussing my private affairs with a complete stranger, and consider that I am in no position to advise anyone.
Yet such an interview has been proposed by more than one young person, or the young person’s relative, as if there were a generally accepted social obligation to accede to it. When I say that I am sorry but I cannot, they appear surprised and offended.
Can Miss Manners suggest a more delicate way of refusing such a request, which is not meant to be, but that I consider to be, offensively intrusive and an unwarranted imposition on my time?
GENTLE READER: Intrusive? Is it possible that there are people left on this self-publicizing Earth who do not want to regale unsuspecting audiences with all the minutiae of their lives? Miss Manners is torn between admiration and admonition – the latter for the fact that you do not find it flattering to want to be emulated.
However, she will help you out by arming you with this sentence if you promise to utter it kindly: “I am flattered, but I am afraid that my life’s path, in all of its lengthy details, would bore you. If you have a specific question about my field, I would be happy to answer it.” Then, at the very least, your admirers will have to go away for a while and do some research before attempting to bother you again.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a server, I happily extend hospitality to the entire spectrum of society, using “sir,” “ma’am,” “ladies,” etc. when addressing guests.
On occasion, I’m perplexed when ladies dressed in matching, masculine clothes dine at a table I’m serving. I feel awkward using both “ma’am” and “sir.” I’m not certain which they would prefer, and certainly do not want to offend.
GENTLE READER: Avoid giving titles entirely. Use “everyone” and “anyone” wherever possible, as in “Does everyone have everything they need?” or “Does anyone need anything?” When in doubt – or when trying to single someone out – Miss Manners highly recommends eye contact.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.
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