DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one deal with some married relatives who do not understand that as an educated single woman in my 30s who works a civil service job, I cannot afford a computer, a cell phone or cable TV? I would enjoy having these luxuries, but it is not possible given my financial situation.
The greatest offense to them seems to be my lack of a cell phone. They frequently call my home phone at the last minute to tell me that their son or daughter would like me to attend their sporting event or play, and then, when I don't get the message until later, they say, "What if we had really needed to get a hold of you?" or "When are you going to join the rest of the world and get a cell phone?"
It is all I can do to not go on a tirade about how it is rude to constantly be yakking to friends on cell phones in restaurants (especially when out-of-state family members visiting for a short time are present!) and that if they had more creative hobbies, they wouldn't need to be on their phones 24/7 without reason. Please be assured I am hardly exaggerating.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners knew it would come to this. It happens with every new toy.
Overnight, people switch from declaring its very existence to be rude to declaring it rude not to have one. Same thing happened with the answering machine: At first, everyone was screaming about how rude it was to have a machine answer the telephone, and the next thing Miss Manners knew, they were screaming about the lack of consideration in not letting callers leave a message.
So do not confuse the question of owning a cellular telephone with that of misusing one. The issue is whether you should have one, not whether anyone should. And in this issue, you are the only one who has a say. Others should be told, "I don't find it's worthwhile at this time."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the polite response to the self-deprecating humor of others?
I was filling the coffee maker at my office when an overweight co-worker entered the kitchen and made a joke about the kitchen being too small for a person as fat as she. I did not feel comfortable laughing, nor did it seemed right to respond with a patronizing "You're not fat" to someone who is over 300 pounds.
Then there was the time I was seated on a plane next to a woman who, upon finding out I was in my 20s, made the comment, "That's the one good thing about my having acne -- people think I'm young, too!" I never know a gracious way to respond to comments such as these, but I know Miss Manners is never at a loss for words.
GENTLE READER: She is when she needs to be. It would be equally awkward to affirm or deny the premise of such jokes. Therefore, Miss Manners merely smiles in a pleasant way that could show that the premise merely amuses her.