Tragedy Victims Can Decline To Discuss How They Feel

Dear Miss Manners: I have been thinking about the standards of television news after violent tragedies. Some of the questions posed to people being interviewed strike me as both non-newsworthy and rude.

For example, how would Miss Manners respond to a question about how parents reacted when told their young child had been murdered? Would ending the interview with, “I’m sorry, but I thought I was talking to a news reporter, not a daytime talk-show host,” be appropriate?

Gentle Reader: Not really. Besides, you intend this as an insult, but the days are long gone when news and entertainment were separated enough to allow each field to look down on the other.

What astonished Miss Manners, when she was a young, intrepid reporter, was how few people in tragic situations simply decline to be interviewed. She understands that some may need public help (in finding a murderer, for example), and that many are too distressed to distinguish between official and media questioning. But it is pitiful to see people squirming under this attention, apparently without realizing the option of refusing.

Furthermore, the ubiquitous question, “How does this make you feel?” is not only intrusive but pointless. However well or badly they articulate it, the victims of tragedy feel terrible. We know that, and should not prod them to declare it.

Dear Miss Manners: My mother told me not to eat out of the saucepan after cooking my oatmeal. I find it easier and not necessary to waste another dish.

Gentle Reader: You seem to be interested in efficiency. Miss Manners therefore wonders why you have not discovered how consuming of time and energy it is to keep annoying your mother, as opposed to how much it takes to wash a dish.

Dear Miss Manners: I am an experienced nanny of many years. Recently I have had jobs where family members hit each other. Sometimes it is the children slapping the mother’s face; sometimes it is the children bruising each other; and sadly, most recently, twin 7-year-old girls I work for began hitting me.

I don’t know what has changed, as in all my years, the No. 1 rule all parents seemed to agree on was No Hitting.

In any case, I wonder if you would help me come up with a way to address this during the initial interview. I feel uncomfortable just saying, “Is hitting OK in your house?” I’m fairly sure they would say it isn’t. One explained she is a “tiger mom,” but then smiled as her child slapped her. How does one evaluate this politely?

Gentle Reader: You got a pretty good idea in the interview you describe, and Miss Manners trusts that you then informed the slapped tiger than you would not be a good fit in her household. Without such a dramatic demonstration, you are unlikely to extract the proof you want by quizzing the prospective employer. As you notice, no one admits to approving violence.

But you can state your non-negotiable policy: that you do not tolerate hitting of any kind, whether between children and grown-ups or among children. You should then explain how you deal with children who disobey this rule, and say that you expect parents who hire you to support you if it happens.

Dear Miss Manners: I have new furniture. I’m having a large buffet party, and I don’t want people in the new living room. How do I keep food out of my living room?

Gentle Reader: A velvet rope across the door? A mean-looking bouncer?

Unless you have provided comfortable seating elsewhere, preferably with somewhere to park the plates, Miss Manners fails to see how you can expect your guests to realize that they will not be trusted in your living room.

Dear Miss Manners: Is the baby shower given for the baby or the parents of the baby?

Gentle Reader: In view of the fact that at the time a shower is given, it is impossible to separate the mother from the baby, Miss Manners is puzzled about why you feel you need to choose. If you must, she would advise choosing the one who has learned to write letters of thanks.

Dear Miss Manners: I had custom correspondence cards printed with a motif on the top left and my full name (first, middle and last) on the lower right corner. While I love the look of the card, my choice of style poses a problem: If my name is already printed, should I also sign it?

I’ve been signing just my first name right above the printed name. It feels impersonal not to sign my name, but redundant to write what is already printed for me. How should I continue?

Gentle Reader: What you have is the modern version of what used to be called (despite the crime of turning an adjective into a noun) “informals.” These were smaller, fold-over cards, with the name engraved on the front and room for a short message inside.

The change to larger cards was made when the postal service declared that it would cease to bother with anything that small. But even before then, informals were misunderstood. Not heeding the name, brides often wrote formal letters of thanks on them.

“Informal” means informal, although not in the anything-goes sense. (That would be the ubiquitous “casual.”) Informal, in this case, just means that you needn’t follow the forms of a letter. You can omit both the salutation and the closing, writing brief invitations, notes with presents or other short messages. Although it is not strictly necessary, you can add an informal signature -- your first name or initial -- if you draw a slanted line through your formal name.

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