DEAR MISS MANNERS: During a birthday party held at work, I began cutting into the birthday cake. The cake had edible candy balloons on the icing and one of my co-workers asked if she "could have a balloon."
This would require cutting into a section of the cake that was untouched, but we said all right go ahead, it's a party. She then proceeded to scrape off only the balloon from the top of the piece of cake. This left the underlying piece of cake exposed with no frosting on it.
We were shocked and asked her why she didn't take the entire piece of cake with the balloon on it. She said she only wanted the balloon. We feel she should have taken the entire piece of cake as no one wants a piece with no frosting on it. In addition, it is implied that when requesting certain items on the cake, you get the cake also. Who's right?
GENTLE READER: Most in the wrong here is your employer, for breaking the child labor laws. Four-year-olds should not be put to work in offices. They should be going to birthday parties where their parents take them aside and teach them to accept what they are served, the good with the bad, even if it means the cake with the icing.
You cannot so instruct a co-worker, Miss Manners is afraid. If that lady were grown up, it would be pointed enough to pick up the knife, cut off the piece that she desecrated, and set it aside.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: On more than one occasion, I've been meeting with friends when a new person is introduced. After a few minutes of cordial greetings, the new person divulges more personal information to me than I am comfortable with. For example, at a holiday gathering, a new acquaintance talked at length about her abusive childhood with many painful details. As a result, I no longer like to be included in the group when this acquaintance is also included.
Is there a polite way to indicate that too much personal information is being imparted so that a friendly acquaintanceship can be developed over time?
GENTLE READER: While admiring your open-minded attitude toward these people, Miss Manners is less optimistic than you about the possibility of such openers developing into real friendships.
Those who unload their lifetime complaints on strangers are not looking for the sort of give and take that develops when people get to know each other and grow increasingly confidential in a mutual fashion. They are looking for audiences for their self-pity monologues. You can discourage them by offering minimal condolences ("Sorry to hear that") and changing the subject. But then they are not likely to consider you a candidate for what they define as friendship.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: For me, receiving even a good book is tantamount to getting an assignment -- something best left to the classroom. So, what to tell an inquiring mind who wants to know, "How's 'the book' coming?" when instead of reading it I'd given "the book" to the Salvation Army?
GENTLE READER: That would be rude. But Miss Manners would imagine that an apologetic, "I haven't gotten to it," repeated often enough, would convey the idea that you are not hungry for books.