DEAR MISS MANNERS: I use a wheelchair. Numerous strangers have approached me in public; they have related some story to me about a distant relative, a friend, or the person speaking and how that person is/was in a wheelchair. Then, after they've shared this story, they ask about me: "So, what happened to you?"
I feel that my personal history is just that -- personal. These people want to tell their own stories, and I am the unfortunate audience. Is my unwillingness to humor these nosy people a personal shortcoming, or is it rude and improper to ask such a personal question of a stranger? I liken it to asking a stranger for their age, weight, or original hair color. Such behavior wouldn't be tolerated, but there seems to be no prohibition against demanding one's medical history. How can I respond in such a way as to convey that asking is inappropriate?
I really dread this situation. I tell friends and acquaintances who need to know, but I'm flabbergasted when strangers are rude without seeming to know how rude they're being.
GENTLE READER: People do ask one another about their age, weight and original hair color, Miss Manners regrets to tell you, and their victims are often intimidated into answering. She fails to understand why, when they should feel as indignant as you do.
Wheelchairs are supposed to help people get around, not to keep their conversation confined to discussing their medical history. Miss Manners has steadfastly refused to be bullied by those who claim that it is healthy to respond to such inquiries, that failure to do so is an indication of shame, and that because curiosity may be natural it should be satisfied. So she is aware of the degree of pressure you must withstand.
If you cannot change or break off the conversation, you can at least treat the question about yourself as if it were the conventional rote question about health. In that case, your response would be, "Oh, I'm fine, thank you, how are you?"
It might be wise to accompany this with the set smile that accompanies an exchange of pleasantries that is going nowhere. Should there be a more explicit follow-up question, you could say, "Really, nothing of any concern to anyone but my friends."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it proper to use pre-printed return address labels on any and all correspondence? My mother disagrees with me -- she thinks they're tacky.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners finds herself less and less interested in mailing envelopes, which became an unfortunate necessity only when one could no longer depend upon footmen to deliver one's letters in a clean envelope (they wore white gloves) bearing only the surname and title of the recipient. (The second, "inside" envelope for wedding invitations is the only surviving part of that tradition.)
So for your ordinary mail, mailing labels are fine. They are not proper for all correspondence, for example, on letters to a mother who thinks they are tacky.