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Miss Manners: Self-Acknowledged Rudeness Doesn’t Make it Right


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Dear Miss Manners: A friend of a friend, who I see at some social events, does an odd thing. She will ask a question that is quite rude and none of her business, but add “I’m nosy” or “I’m rude” at the end. For example, she asked another guest, “When is that husband of yours going to get you pregnant? I’m nosy.”

The idea, apparently, is that rudeness is acceptable when the person admits it ahead of time. What is the appropriate response?

Gentle Reader: “Evidently.”

Miss Manners advises that this be said with a sympathetic smile and followed by silence.

Dear Miss Manners: I love seeing ladies in films wearing gloves, and despite current fashion, want to bring them into my daily wear. I feel femininity never goes out of style.

Aside from challenging a gentleman to a duel, when does a lady remove her gloves?

Gentle Reader: Actually it drives Miss Manners crazy to see gloved ladies in period films, plays and operas. They almost always keep them on while eating, drinking or even smoking. Eeeew.

The general rule was (and there is no need to repeal it, as most ladies have long since peeled off their gloves) that gloves were always worn outdoors and almost never indoors. As a result, ladies had to be adept in carrying their gloves while enjoying non-abstemious indoor activities.

The exceptions when gloves might be worn indoors included occasions such as getting married and/or dancing. And for safety’s sake, Miss Manners advises wearing gauntlets for duels that are fought indoors.

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I were very close friends with a couple for many years. We moved away, but stayed in touch and, in the past few years, were able to visit. Six months ago, when we were visiting their city, they said that they had no friends.

Alas, the husband died suddenly of a stroke five months ago. I know that the wife has no siblings or parents left.

I have sent her a formal sympathy note and three more casual follow-ups. I wrote a poem in his memory. It seems almost like stalking, but I remember how bereft she was when her sister died and felt that sympathy was not sufficiently extended (in general — I don’t think she was pointing the finger at me).

I don’t want to permit her to think that we are not feeling a lot of sympathy for her having lost her husband of almost 50 years. Yet her silence indicates that either our overtures are unwanted, or that her condition is so bad that she is emotionally overwhelmed.

When does an old friend stop reaching out? I do not want to continue down an upsetting path, nor do I wish to appear insensitive.

Gentle Reader: Indeed, the lady should have acknowledged your great show of sympathy. Miss Manners does not generally accept bereavement as an excuse for ignoring kindness. On the contrary, responding is a way of representing the deceased, as well as encouraging continuing friendship, of which this lady is apparently in special need.

But please do give it a last try, this time by calling or visiting, as your generous correspondence has unfortunately failed.

Dear Miss Manners: In the first few moments after my arrival at a college reunion, an old acquaintance came up to me with great enthusiasm, seized my hand and gave it a bone-crunching squeeze. It was so viselike that I had no power to squeeze back and thus defend myself.

My weakness was partly owing to a sprain in my index finger that occurred about three months earlier and which I had assumed was healed. To top everything off, I am a classical pianist who once played professionally and now does it for fun.

But the handshake did its worst, and I instantly worried I might never play again. The pain was such that I couldn’t help crying out, “You’ve crushed my finger! It was recovering from a sprain!” My old acquaintance drew back in horror, became contrite and apologized.

Realizing that I may have spoiled the moment, I tried to make up for it by smiling (while still wincing inwardly) and tossing off the comment, “Don’t worry. I’ll send you the medical bill,” then continuing with a bit of jovial small talk as if everything were back to normal.

But I feared things were not back to normal. In the weeks leading up to the event, this person had emailed me saying how much he looked forward to catching up. Within seconds of the encounter, he drifted off to other classmates, and our paths crossed only one more time when I reassured him that my finger was fine and I was just trying to razz him. But he drifted away once more.

I will say that after his severe handshake my finger still hasn’t re-healed. What, if anything, did I do wrong, and is there any way to redeem the situation?

Gentle Reader: There is, but it will require an apology on the part of the already-injured party: you.

Miss Manners hopes you recover fully and cannot blame you for reacting when your hand was crushed. Because your friend had no ill intention and apologized, your subsequent impulse to assure him that you will be fine was the right one.

Unfortunately, you have not convinced him. Whether or not you believe in your heart that you overreacted, you need to tell your friend that you did and apologize. This will be more convincing if you do not tell him that his greeting has ended your career as a pianist.

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I were recently married, and about half of our close friends were able to attend. We were touched that they used their vacation time to attend our wedding.

Even so, the majority of our close friends who attended did not give us a congratulatory card or note and no gift of any kind. We had an online registry with affordable options, but it was hardly used.

We were a little hurt because we didn’t ask them to spend much money on us outside of our wedding (no shower, etc.), and we always spend money on our friends to celebrate their life events (children, and hosting showers/bachelorette parties), so we thought that we would at least receive a card.

My friends spend lavishly on themselves, and our wedding cost about $150 per person. I understand if people can’t afford much, but our friends earn about twice as much as us.

I feel petty for asking, but should I be insulted? I have never once forgotten to send a gift, even for weddings I can’t attend. Is it now socially acceptable to not give anything to a bride and bridegroom if their wedding is a destination wedding? Is the lack of even a sentimental note a sign that our friendship is not as strong as I thought, or am I overanalyzing it all?

Gentle Reader: Little clues in your question are giving Miss Manners pause. Like the fact that it was a destination wedding. How far a destination? That only half of your close friends were able to attend gives her an idea.

And tallying the price of the dinner you gave and the amount of money your friends earn and spend on themselves is as irrelevant as it is unseemly.

Yes, a wedding present is generally given and a sentimental note is always thoughtful, although hardly a tradition or necessity from those who attended. But it seems to Miss Manners that after what can now be up to a year or two of celebrations and festivities surrounding a wedding, guests are simply exhausted. And they feel they have shown their sentiment for the couple merely by continuing to show up — and shell out.

How much more acknowledgment do you need? Surely it is time to turn your attentions to something else, like the marriage itself. Or as you stated at the outset, feeling grateful that your friends and family were there with you to celebrate it.

On (another) bright side, you have relatively few letters of thanks to send out — a tradition that many brides find abhorrent even for the lavish presents that they do receive.

Dear Miss Manners: I will be unable to attend an annual dinner party for family members this year because of a particularly hurtful event between myself and another attendee. I want to say that I will not attend without going into detail. What is your advice?

Gentle Reader: To say that you will not attend without going into detail.

Miss Manners is written by Judith Martin, her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. You are invited to email your etiquette questions from www.missmanners.com, if you promise to use the black or blue-black ink you’ll save by writing those thank you, condolence and congratulations letters you owe.