DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was divorced three years ago, and my children's mother asked that I take photos of my son before he went to the homecoming dance. I took the pictures, as requested, and e-mailed them to her.
Some of the photos that I e-mailed included both my son and my new stepdaughter. About a day later, I got back a response that said, "Very nice picture of Emmet. I did ask for pictures of Emmet, not Emmet and Angela. Try to redirect your passive-aggressive guilt-ridden behaviors somewhere else."
I would prefer to avoid receiving insults thinly disguised as psychological diagnoses. Is there any response that you can suggest? I don't want to return rudeness with rudeness, as I must maintain contact with my son's mother for at least another three years.
GENTLE READER: How about, "Oops, sorry, the pictures were all together, and I only meant to send you the ones of Emmet"?
Miss Manners hopes you do not consider this too tame. Whatever else may have occurred to you is bound to be rude or pseudo-analytic. Even an apology can be taken for sarcasm by someone determined to be insulted, but true passive-aggressive politeness is hard to counter.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: As the years go by, I find myself an older woman in an interesting, varied workplace that consists mostly of men, many of them quite young. Sometimes someone will utter a four-letter word and then apologize to me. He's trying to be polite.
I'm not shocked or offended (not after being married to my husband for 16 years). I just want to be polite too, but I have trouble finding the right thing to say. "That's all right" doesn't seem to fit. At present I give a slight smile and a nod of the head, and feel awkward. Maybe I'd do better to act as if someone had burped and said, "Excuse me" (burp is a four-letter word, after all), and pretend that no such sound ever entered my shell-like ear. Can you help me find a good formula for response?
Oh, yes, another question -- when I lose my cool and utter a four-letter word or two myself, should I offer a similar apology to the men around me?
GENTLE READER: Oh, yes, and Miss Manners has a question for you: Why are you contributing to the dirty-word index?
You may argue that you are not contributing much, only an occasional slip. What disturbs her more is that by brushing it off, you are helping to normalize cursing.
She is not asking you to make a scene, nor to police your colleagues; both would be rude. She is not even asking you to make the point that swearing is worse in front of ladies. Gender distinctions do not belong in the office, but neither does swearing.
She is merely asking you to acknowledge the transgression by saying "Thank you" for the apology.