DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can you give some advice to a professional opera singer who is frequently asked to give impromptu performances at social gatherings?
Much like the comedian constantly harangued for a joke or the doctor cornered for an opinion on a growth, I am struggling to find a graceful response to frequent well-intentioned entreaties for an aria from Boheme in the midst of an otherwise perfectly delightful occasion.
I feel like a heel to decline, but I don't care for winging it. I don't want to come off as the "diva" who refuses to sing except for a paying audience, and I don't see how I'm ever going to get people to stop asking. So, I need a few tools in my arsenal for handling these occasions gracefully.
GENTLE READER: If it is any comfort, you would also be criticized if you complied. Oh, sure, people would stand around admiringly. But however enchanting your performance, one or two would be bound to drift off in the middle, murmuring about your "showing off." The word "diva" would be used pejoratively -- which, by the way, you of all people should not be doing.
So do not weaken. To refuse, you should say, "Oh, I'm so sorry -- I'm flattered to be asked, but I'm under orders to rest my voice." You needn't mention that those are Miss Manners' orders.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am blessed with an 8-month-old adoptive son. He's delightful and sweet, and a very handsome little fellow, in my (perhaps biased) opinion.
When we're out together, strangers often comment to me, "How cute he is!" or "What a beautiful baby!" I never tire of hearing these comments, having waited a while for this adoption and considering him to be the light of my life.
But what is the polite way to respond to these kindnesses? "Thank you" seems a little odd, since my son is a different race than I am and it is quite obvious that I share no credit for his good looks. Silence seems inadequate, even if accompanied by the usual delighted beaming.
I've taken to addressing the baby and saying jokingly, "Now say thank you, dear!" but that doesn't feel quite right either. It doesn't seem fair to fob off my confusion on the little one, who can't yet speak for himself except for the occasional raspberry. Any guidance as to a polite response would be much appreciated.
GENTLE READER: Then you cannot escape the term "thank you." Please stop analyzing it; it is merely the conventional, polite reply when given any sort of compliment. If a guest said he liked your sofa, Miss Manners trusts that you would be able to murmur your thanks without the qualification that you did not construct it.
At any rate, you probably should get some credit for your son's charm: Adored infants tend to look adorable right back (when they are not hungry, wet or cranky). And you are certainly going to be held to account for his manners, which is why Miss Manners has no objection to your solution of prompting him to express the thanks.