DEAR MISS MANNERS: Many times, I will find myself in a group of people including a very young child or a very elderly person.
In an effort to engage either this junior or senior person in conversation (thinking I might be able to glean some wisdom from the older person), I will ask them some simple question.
Invariably, some well-meaning "buttinski" in the group, usually a parent or relative, will interrupt with an "I know, I know" answer to the question, appointing themself spokesperson for this individual, mindlessly pontificating and being oblivious to the fact that I'm not really looking for an answer to that simple question; I'm just trying to get this youngster or oldster to talk a bit.
How do the parents of young kids ever expect their kids to develop the art of conversation when they never let them answer for themselves, even if it's to the simplest of questions that they may happen to know the answer to?
How do I gently prepare the buttinskis of the world in advance so they don't feel free to jump in with answers to the simple questions I use to try to talk to a child or old person?
GENTLE READER: And what do you think?
No, Miss Manners is not shirking her job here by using that clever therapeutic technique of throwing the question back to the questioner so she can get back to woolgathering.
Rather, she is suggesting that after the wrong person has answered the question, you turn again to the person you had asked and repeat it. What you are doing is charming and important, and Miss Manners hopes that the repetition will not only begin a conversation but make your point to the person who tried to thwart it.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I had a conversation with a friend that has left me in a guilt-stew all day long. She and her 17-year-old daughter are coming to my house for Thanksgiving. None of us wants to cook, so we decided to order a commercially prepared Thanksgiving meal. The price came to $100-plus, and I said, "We're splitting this three ways, right? You're paying for you and your daughter, and I'm paying for myself."
Her response indicated that this was a surprise to her, as I am her daughter's "Auntie" Alice. I'm thinking, "And so?" What am I missing?
The girl and I are not close like family, though we get along well when we're in each other's presence. I rarely sign birthday cards "Auntie Alice" because Ijust don't feel like an aunt, and she doesn't call meanything, I'm assuming to avoid the Auntie label hermother applied to me.
She and her mother live about a three-hour drive away so we don't see each other frequently, and I never call the daughter nor she me. I might forward a funny e-mail to her, but that's aboutthe extent of our relationship.
Why do I feel guilty?! What I'm really asking is what did the situation call for?
GENTLE READER: You feel guilty because squabbling over money with guests whom you have invited to your house does not exactly come under the definition of What Thanksgiving Means to Me. Miss Manners suggests that in honor of the occasion, you let it go, saying graciously that you will allow your friend to get the bill next time.