DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a very private person, and I believe that having good manners is important, so I work hard at being polite every day. I have had a co-worker for the last two years who keeps asking me what I'm "really like."
When this happens, I answer, "This is what I'm really like," until he gets tired of it and gives up. I have encountered other people who ask me variations of this same question, e.g. "What is the real you like?"
My co-worker has started saying with great pleasure if he ever hears me say something even vaguely negative or not entirely polite, "Now, there's the real you coming out."
I am getting frustrated with people who assume that my slip-ups and mistakes expose more of my real character than the manners I work hard at every day. I am getting tired of people who take my reserved demeanor as a kind of challenge.
Is there a way to politely get these kinds of people to leave me alone and stop prodding me like I am some kind of circus animal? I feel like they're hoping I'll crack one day and throw a fit, but I don't understand why.
GENTLE READER: Whole schools of unpleasant art have been built on the idea that only the ugly is real.
The same notion applied to people appeals to those who, like your co-worker, want to justify their own rudeness on the grounds that they are being natural, honest and true to themselves. As they undoubtedly are, more's the pity for the rest of us.
Manners, your colleague doubtless points out, are artificial. So are other forms of learned behavior, such as literacy, toilet training and, indeed, civilization itself.
You are quite right that such people are hoping that you will crack. It would be kinder to commiserate with them for having such a dismal view of humanity.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm a senior in high school who plays on our girls' basketball team. I've known most of my teammates for years, and, for the most part, we get along well.
However, there is one "quirk," if you will, that drives me crazy. Many of our girls sometimes make a huge and annoying fuss about the smell in our lavatory after someone uses it. The best way to describe it is how young boys react when one of them releases odor. The girls, some of them fellow seniors, will hoot, holler, fuss and laugh.
Maybe I'm making too big a deal and they're just joking, but I find this behavior both juvenile and insulting, as I expect it from my younger brother and his friends. Is there a tactful way to remind my teammates that although we're athletes, we're also young ladies, and that this is not the way to conduct ourselves in public?
GENTLE READER: Well, they are juveniles. And they may grow out of it -- if they don't decide that freedom consists of aspiring to men's locker-room behavior.
Be grateful that you are beyond this yourself, and not their mother. As Miss Manners is sure you know from observing your younger brother and his crowd, usurping that position would only drive them to grosser behavior.