DEAR MISS MANNERS: I learned recently that I have a very mild and entirely treatable form of cancer. This disease doesn't interfere with my everyday life, other than requiring a few hours out of the office to make a small number of trips to the doctor's office. My family and close friends have provided the kind of support that I find useful, which is to go about their normal lives.
A number of acquaintances, however, have taken this opportunity to project all of their cancer- and death-related fears onto me, and I have unexpectedly found myself in the position of having to console sobbing co-workers and hysterical neighbors. As my incredulous Italian mother-in-law put it, "You get sick, so THEY should cry?"
After the third or fourth such scene, I quit telling people anything beyond, "My doctor says it's really nothing important; she wants me to try some drug, and it should all be fine." The rude handful who have insisted upon more information have been told lies: I don't remember the name of the drug, and I can't pronounce the name of the condition.
I have also sworn several friends to secrecy after explaining my problem with this overwrought sort of sympathy (do you think it is really supposed to be sympathy)? I don't want to be surprised by any more of these scenes.
Even if there was some chance of my condition getting worse (and there isn't), could any person actually believe that making a scene could somehow console a sick or even dying person? Is it perhaps an attempt to get my mind off of a relatively minor medical problem by helping me fixate on uncharitable thoughts about the person making the scene?
GENTLE READER: Of course these people are trying to get your mind off yourself. They want the focus to be on themselves. Furthermore, they do not share your dignified aversion to collecting pity.
This makes the sympathy of those with no empathy a trial. Miss Manners advises your cutting this off at the first sign by saying, "Oh, please don't worry about me. You obviously have worse problems."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have conducted a survey of friends and co-workers about this question and received startlingly different answers. Can you give us the final rule on this question? Is it considered poor etiquette to order the same dish in a fine dining establishment as someone else in your party?
GENTLE READER: No, it's not poor etiquette, but watch out for the ones who voted that it was. Their forks are going to be in your plates.
There are occasions, when several people go out together -- to a Chinese restaurant, for example -- with the idea that they will order platters in which everyone shares. But there are also people who regard anyone's food as community property and those who, oddly enough, want to eat what they ordered because they ordered what they like.