Miss Manners: Sometimes Coffee Is Just Coffee

Friday, April 13, 2018

Dear Miss Manners: I’m a single professional woman in my early 30s, in an industry where networks and relationships are extremely important. How should I respond when male professional contacts express an interest in meeting up, and I can’t tell if they mean professionally or as a date?

Although sometimes it’s clear (drinks after work, on the weekend, etc.), sometimes it’s for coffee or breakfast during the week, which could be either.

I have no problem firmly and clearly turning men down if they are aggressive or inappropriate, but sometimes they are nice people I respect, and would like to continue being friendly with — but not more than that.

How can I ascertain what their intentions are? And what is a kind and polite way to turn somebody down if I suspect that they are interested in a date? Usually it’s a general invitation for coffee, and they ask me when is convenient for my schedule, not a specific date that I can be unavailable for. I don’t want to risk saying I’m not interested in dating, when they could mean just a meeting!

Gentle Reader: There is so much pseudo-socializing in the workplace that Miss Manners worries that people don’t seem to know how to be pleasant in a businesslike way.

A polite response, when a colleague suggests meeting, is, “What would you like to discuss?” And if the gentleman looks blank, you can add, “I like to be prepared.”

But if he says, “I’d just like to get to know you better,” you know it is not really about business. And you can say cheerfully, “I don’t really stay around here socializing, but you can always stop by my desk.”

Dear Miss Manners: I don’t understand people who feel the need to point out obvious things. My husband and I were walking through a park one day, and he dropped his sunglasses. When he was already kneeling down to pick them up, a woman walked past us and told him, “You dropped your glasses.”

Of course he had realized this.

Another example was when I entered a store after rain had suddenly started. Someone informed me, “You got caught in the rain.” I was aware of this.

How should one respond when a person makes such a useless statement?

Gentle Reader: “Yes, I did (drop my glasses/get caught in the rain)!” — as if they were bright children who had guessed right.

Just as silly, but even more annoying, are those who feel obliged to point out to you that you are tall or short or red-haired or blond. For them, Miss Manners suggests a wide-eyed “Really?”

Upping the unpleasantness even more are the people who inform you that you are too fat or too thin. The response to that should be, “How kind of you to say so.”

Dear Miss Manners: Our daughter is getting married next June. She and her fiance are already living together. We plan to purchase a post-ceremony wedding announcement in the newspaper.

While reading current announcements for ideas, we’ve noticed a variation on the “After a wedding trip to Bora Bora, the couple will reside in Podunk” phrasing. Apparently, couples who already share a home are using: “After a wedding trip to Bora Bora, the couple reside in Podunk.” Aside from the grammar issue, is this language appropriate?

Gentle Reader: “Aside from the grammar issue”? What could be more important?

Anyway, the traditional wording is that a bridal couple “will be at home” in Podunk after the wedding trip. Miss Manners notices that this does not specify whether they were “at home” there before the wedding, as well.

Dear Miss Manners: I am a professional 50-year-old woman who works in a veterinary medical office. Another professional gentleman around the same age, who does some work in our office, has started to occasionally call me “hon” and “honey.”

I find this very offensive, but am unsure how to gracefully let him know my feelings. I have to work with this person and do not want to make our relationship awkward in the future, as I do not think he’s doing it to purposely demean me.

Gentle Reader: You can say kindly, “I’m guessing you’re having trouble remembering my name.” Miss Manners assures you that being thought forgetful will make more of an impression on the gentleman than being thought forward.

Dear Miss Manners: I occasionally invite a friend or friends to join me at a restaurant in order to use a coupon. The coupon has an expiration date, so I mention this when issuing the invitation.

If my friend can’t go on the date I suggest, he or she will usually say, “I’ll let you know a date when I can go.” Time passes, the coupon is about to expire, so I begin to wonder whether it is better to prompt the friend or extend the invitation to someone else. What is the correct thing to do?

Gentle Reader: Although Miss Manners prohibits rescinding invitations, this is not applicable. Your initial invitation was rejected. You need only express sadness that that date did not work out, and agree that you would be happy to do some other, non-coupon activity on a more convenient date.

Dear Miss Manners: When someone has put forth the effort to surprise me with a present, I prefer to express my gratitude in a handwritten note. Sometimes, however, I receive a gift that has been shipped to me.

Is it out of place to send an email thank-you immediately so they know I have received their surprise? Such an email would, of course, be followed with the preferred handwritten correspondence.

Gentle Reader: What is your hurry?

Although she insists on prompt thank-you letters, Miss Manners does not understand the necessity for instantaneous ones. Assuming a reasonable response time, no sensible giver would quibble over the one or two days taken by the mail.

As she agrees that the letter of thanks, not the email, is the genuine article, she suspects that your concern — which is shared by many of her Gentle Readers — has been shaped by the corporate world. Watching on one’s computer as a package fitfully wends its way across the country, or on one’s cellphone as the car makes multiple wrong turns trying to find you, are now everyday occurrences.

Miss Manners is mystified why customers are content with documentation of incompetence in place of speedier delivery, but she notes that they are nevertheless conditioned to waiting.

Dear Miss Manners: I have a co-worker who brought up a disgusting topic at lunch. I told her I had a very weak stomach and to please talk about something else. She continued her conversation, so I picked up my lunch and went to another room to eat.

Today she insisted on talking about “chicken poop” at the lunch table. She giggled when she realized it had ruined my lunch. She thinks it is cute. I think it is rude. Am I being too sensitive?

Gentle Reader: As your co-worker’s enjoyment of her own unseemly behavior only works with an audience, you are right to deprive her of one. Reasoning with her is clearly ineffective.

But Miss Manners suggests also depriving her of the pleasure of appearing to shock you, by picking up your food and leaving with merely a muted, resigned disappointment.

Dear Miss Manners: My manager lost his mother this morning. In his email informing us of his bereavement (and the fact that he’ll be out of the office), he clearly mentioned, “No condolences necessary.”

What is the proper etiquette in this situation? Do I respect his wishes and act completely normal (which seems rude), or do I send him a personal note?

Gentle Reader: People in your manager’s situation are sometimes not entirely sure what they want. Miss Manners does not say this as a preface to suggesting you ignore his wishes, but rather as a warning that whatever you do is equally likely to offend.

He may well consider it rude of you to ignore the death of his mother; he may also take umbrage at flowers expressing your sadness at the news. The safest course is the middle one: Omit the usual handwritten note to his home (complying with his request), but respond to his email saying how sorry you are (thereby showing sympathy) and asking if there is anything you can take care of for him in the office during his absence.

Dear Miss Manners: When friends or family cancel after accepting an invitation, who bears the burden of rescheduling?

A friend canceled plans for lunch at our home — the morning of the lunch. A family we know canceled a long-planned day trip because an event that their child had to attend came up after they accepted our invitation. Last summer, my brother and his family, who live about two hours away, canceled a holiday-weekend visit to our home — the day before we expected them — because their pet-care plans fell through.

I completely understand that life happens, but none of these people suggested an alternative plan when they canceled, and none have reached out to reschedule since then.

I have always thought the burden of rescheduling lies with the canceling party, but since no one has done it, I question my judgment. I also question whether it’s worth reinviting them to new events; it’s fair to conclude that they are signaling a lack of interest in socializing with us, and I don’t want to put people in the position of scrambling to politely decline. How would you proceed at this point? Are there different standards for friends and family?

Gentle Reader: You may stop issuing invitations to ungracious friends. To family, you may only stop issuing them with enthusiasm.

Dear Miss Manners: My wife is totally disabled and requires 24-hour care. Fortunately, I have the means to provide her with a team of caregivers who look after her in our own home.

The employees are all young women, and I generally allow them to dress however they choose. One of them is particularly striking in appearance and very well-endowed. The concern is that she often wears clothing that is a little too revealing.

Although I’m old enough to be her grandfather, and totally loyal to my wife, some of her clothing choices still make me uncomfortable. How can I gently ask her to dress more modestly without embarrassing her or coming across as a dirty old man?

Gentle Reader: Of course, you are not supposed to notice her appearance or what she is wearing. But requiring proper dress is within the reasonable jurisdiction of the employer, especially, Miss Manners would assume, in health care.

If there is a third-party employer, like an agency or hospital that might be better equipped to address the situation, go there first. But if you are the direct employer, you may say, “I wonder if it might be better for the team to wear caregiver attire. That way, we won’t worry about your ruining your dressy clothes with our mess.”

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.