DEAR MISS MANNERS: Someone at work drew me into a line of questioning about my future career plans. I actually have a very good idea of what I want to do over the next five years, but I didn't want it to become widely known yet.
I am frustrated because every vague and evasive answer I gave only resulted in a direct and specific follow-up. I ended up revealing more than I would have liked, and finally had to feign a trip to another office to end the conversation.
How does one deal with people who simply won't accept general answers? I feel as though the questioning for specific information presupposes a level of intimacy which simply does not exist, and makes me very uncomfortable.
GENTLE READER: There is something to be learned from nosy people, in addition to the wisdom of running when you see them coming. It is the technique they use. As you can attest, it is an effective one.
They keep right on pursuing the same line of questioning, undeterred by evasive answers. You were uncomfortable because the idea is to make the target uncomfortable to the point of being worn down enough to yield the information.
Miss Manners recommends wearing them down instead by cheerfully repeating the same evasive answers: "Oh there are a lot of possibilities," followed by, "Well, as I said, there are a lot of possibilities," followed by, "I told you that there are a lot of possibilities."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I threw a party for about 30 of our friends, beginning in the late afternoon, with a table full of hors d'oeuvres. Later we served dinner.
While dinner was being heated in the kitchen, one guest came to say she was very hungry and would like to eat immediately, since she had to leave early. I said this would be fine if she ate in the kitchen, but I thought it rude for her to have dinner among the other guests before they could be served. She did in fact eat in the kitchen.
Two friends were helping me when this occurred, and I asked for their opinions on how I should have handled the situation. Both thought I should have given her the food as requested, because the other guests would not notice, or if they did notice, they would not care.
Who is correct? And how should I have responded to the request? In all honesty, I was quite taken aback.
GENTLE READER: You were incorrect only about the target of the rudeness. It is not that the other guests would have felt slighted. They would have crowded around with the reasonable assumption that dinner was being served.
The target was you. Leaving before dinner was insulting enough without adding the demand to be fed on her schedule, not yours.
You handled this rudeness more generously than Miss Manners would have done. She would have said sweetly, "I'm so sorry, but I'm not ready to serve dinner yet. I'm sure you'll get something at your next stop."