DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have an apparently interesting scar, about 3 inches long, straight down my spine on my lower back. It's not normally visible, but occasionally friends or acquaintances will inquire about it and I cheerfully tell them the rather dull truth about falling off a stool when I was a child. However, sometimes random strangers catch a glimpse (leaning over a water fountain, or on the beach and the like) and feel utterly comfortable coming up to me and asking where I picked up such an odd disfigurement. In these cases, I tend to cheerfully tell them the first thing that pops into my head -- I was born with a tail, or kidnapped by aliens or had a reverse C-section, that sort of thing.
My casual acquaintance, upon hearing about this habit, informed me that it was unconscionably rude and terribly inappropriate. I tend to feel that I'm reacting humorously, but not inappropriately, to an entirely rude question, and that if they felt the need to go to all the effort of approaching me, I ought to give them an entertaining return.
Who's in the right here? And, if I'm being rude, what would be a polite response that's still better than a blank stare or a chilly "Excuse me?"
GENTLE READER: A better response? Yours are indeed amusing, and Miss Manners will not try to top them. You need a casual acquaintance with a better sense of humor.
As long as your delivery is not sarcastic, a good-natured nonanswer is more polite than any way of conveying that it is none of their business.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sister-in-law is an important executive with a very large travel-related American corporation. As a thank you gesture for her efforts in increasing their business, a cruise ship line invited her and 12 of her extended family to be their gratis guests on an inaugural cruise. The fortunate party included three adult men, seven adult women and three children.
During a formal dinner one evening, the president of the cruise line stopped at our table (which probably represented an outlay of about $50,000 for his company) and chatted for a few minutes. No one stood up.
Please explain to me the correct protocol in a situation like this. Should my sister-in-law, as the primary invitee, have stood, or because of her gender is that not necessary? Should my brother as her husband stand? Should all of the men at the table have stood? Or should every one of us have jumped up and given him a group hug?
GENTLE READER: This is a tricky question, and not just because of the effect 13 people all hopping up at once might have had on the balance of the ship.
In the workplace, rank and not gender determines precedence. However, the president of the cruise line was not your sister-in-law's boss but her benefactor, and, at any rate, his generosity places her on vacation. So let's leave her seated, and the other ladies as well. Miss Manners would like to see the children rise, as they should for any adult. That leaves the three gentlemen. It would have been graceful if they had stood and toasted his kindness and his health.