DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been a seriously disabled woman for a great many years. My life is sad, complicated and a very big disappointment. My question is not about how to deal with it, but how to deal with certain kinds of questions.
When people that know me ask how my holiday was, or how my weekend was, I hate to lie to them, and say that it was fine when I know that they know better and yet, I really don't want to discuss it. I live it and don't want to listen to the litany myself. If it bores me, how must others feel?
What can I say that won't make people feel that I am either lying or in some way making them feel bad for an honest question with a fraudulent answer?
GENTLE READER: Ah, but it is not an honest question. Nor is it a dishonest question. True and false are not the only possibilities in human discourse.
Miss Manners would like to introduce you to the concept of conventional expressions, designed to indicate good will but not meant to be taken literally. People who don't understand this, and snap back at "Good morning" with "What's good about it?" make themselves tedious.
The conventional greeting is followed by a conventional inquiry -- "How are you?" "How y'doing?" or the ones you get about weekend or holidays. The conventional answer is "Fine," but if you still object to that, you could say, "Oh, as usual. How was yours?"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a 4-year college degree. I tend to work in fields where I am the only one with any college at all, so I don't mention the degree. If I have to refer to that time in my life for some other reason, I might say "in school," deliberately giving the impression that I'm referring to high school. Sometimes it comes out: Someone will ask directly if I've gone to college, or of course my boss knows and might mention it.
I find it makes my co-workers uncomfortable. Suddenly everyone is saying that they could have gone to college but chose not to, or that they don't think "book smart" is of any particular value in life. On a later occasion, someone might say, "Well, I didn't go to college or anything, but ..."
Although obviously I value my college experience and DO think "book smart" is a worthwhile way to be, I don't think going to college made me in any way "better than" my co-workers -- which is what they seem to believe I think, once they find out about my education.
Is there anything I can do to put them at ease about my feelings in the matter, without having to knock my education by agreeing with them that it was worthless?
GENTLE READER: Going to college is not, in itself, rude, however many undergraduates attempt to demonstrate that it is. As long as you are not committing an auxiliary rudeness, such as bragging, patronizing others or asking them to kick in for your alumni fundraising drive, Miss Manners sees no reason for you to apologize.
Your colleagues should be uncomfortable. It is only unfortunate that they are uncomfortable for the wrong reason. Not having attended college is no disgrace. Belittling the experience of others is.
When co-workers pick on you like that, you don't want to argue, but neither should you placate them. You should simply let them have their say without comment. Your conduct in this, as at all other times, would demonstrate to fair-minded people that you do not look down on them.