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

Miss Manners: Telemarketers don’t really care how you’re doing

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I receive a lot of unwanted telephone calls from telemarketers and real estate buyers who are seeking to buy my house. Many of these callers start out by asking for me by name and then inquiring how I am doing.

Every once in a while, one of these callers turns out to be a recruiter instead of a telemarketer, so I wish to remain polite in spite of the annoyance of being called repeatedly by the same companies I’ve asked to stop calling.

Even knowing that most people who ask how I am doing aren’t actually seeking a truthful or complete answer, I still feel uncomfortable responding to what feels like a personal question from someone with whom I have no personal relationship. I don’t feel that comfortable making a reciprocal inquiry into their well-being, either.

Is there a polite way to respond without answering their question? And does etiquette demand that I respond in kind with an inquiry into their well-being?

GENTLE READER: The terms “friendship,” “relationship” and “personal” have become so corrupted in common use that Miss Manners finds them entirely unhelpful in answering your question.

In the situation you cite, a perfectly proper response to the question “How are you doing?” is, “May I please know what you are calling in reference to?” If the answer is, “Are you interested in saving money on a new roof?,” there is nothing rude about responding, “Thank you, no, goodbye” and hanging up.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I entertained a cousin and her husband on short notice. They were in town for another event and wanted to stop by to say hello.

It was a fine visit until the point when my cousin shocked me with a very inaccurate and personal question regarding my now-deceased father. She told me that she and her mom had discussed if he had been abusive or mean to my mother.

I emphatically told her “not at all,” and then she changed the subject. When the next opportunity presented itself, I told her I was not done with the conversation, and I emphatically set her straight on the topic.

My father was a complete gentleman every single day of his life. He was never abusive mentally, physically or verbally to any of us. He provided for our welfare his entire life, and I feel extremely lucky to have had him as a role model for my choice in men.

A week later, I am still shaken by this. By the way, my cousin’s father (my uncle, on my mother’s side) was known to hit his wife and children. I did not remind her of this, but it keeps coming up in my mind.

I want no contact at all with her ever again. Am I out of line? How should I act if she does want to call on me again for a visit?

GENTLE READER: Making a serious and defamatory accusation against your deceased father was a poor way for your cousin to discover if you would be a sympathetic to her own problems – if that was what she was doing – but your reaction made your point. If she did not apologize profusely, she should understand why it will no longer be convenient for you to entertain her.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website