DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the old days, when colleagues and their wives would get together at parties, the "men" would talk business, and the "wives" would talk house and children. Nowadays, the "wives" are often professionals in their own right, and things can get sticky.
I am a female professor in a medical school department. When we have social gatherings, the "men" talk work and the "wives" talk, not so much house and children, but let's say "not-work."
If I stay with the "men" do I snub the "wives"? If I stay with the "wives," I'm missing some important conversation with my peers in the department.
I realize that the answer lies in mixed gender conversation, but the situation usually deteriorates into the situation outlined above. I wish to snub nobody, but I can't be in two places at once!
GENTLE READER: Have you been spending too much time in the Gender Studies department? Your use of quotation marks prompted Miss Manners to speculate that the wives weren't really wives and the men weren't really men -- and now you want to be two genders at once.
Miss Manners has heard that it has been done, but it seems unnecessarily complicated in this situation.
Even in the old days, when ladies and gentlemen (and maybe those are the terms that deserve warning quotation marks) separated after dinner by custom, rather than by inclination, the idea was only to quarantine the business talk and the cigar smoking so these questionable activities wouldn't spoil the entire party. Your implication that more important things were being said over the cigars alerts Miss Manners of your innocence of social history, as well as of your assumption that trade talk is more important than real conversation.
In any case, the artificiality of dividing all this by gender became apparent because ladies were smoking in the powder room and holding positions that made an increasing number of them have to be included in working dinners that had borne the curious label of "stag."
Miss Manners suggests that you not mess with our newfound liberty by making a point of noticing which gender is talking about what. Just join whichever conversation interests you.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My son sent me a very nice wristwatch for my birthday, one which I would not buy for myself, or wear, because it is too heavy and glitzy. I have a couple of good everyday watches, plus a Rolex which I wear occasionally.
Obviously, the gracious thing to do would be to thank my son and just leave it at that, but I'm a little annoyed that he would spend good money for a speculative gift in light of the fact that we have contributed to his financial health in the past, and I'm certain we will again in the future.
GENTLE READER: However, Miss Manners doubts that you will have to worry in the future about how to treat presents your son gives you. By linking the present with your own contributions, you use your own generosity to squelch his.
Presents should be accepted graciously, even if they are misguided. If your son lives above his means and expects you to bail him out, surely you can find other examples with which to upbraid him.