DEAR MISS MANNERS: An acquaintance posted on the Internet some music that he had composed and performed with his band. He then directed friends to the site to listen and offer opinions.
I don't know how to respond. The music was awful. Not in such a way that it might appeal to someone with different taste than myself, but just plain hideously awful.
I don't want to encourage him, as its obvious that music will never be his forte, but I also don't want to be cruel. What can I say to this person other than "Don't quit your day job"?
GENTLE READER: Your acquaintance is asking for it, isn't he?
Under the pretense of seeking frank criticism, he is probably trusting that his friends will do the correct social thing, which is to offer encouragement to amateur efforts, which at any rate, they cannot politely squash out of existence.
Many people make that false request for frankness, leaving Miss Manners with the task of convincing their friends not to give them what they deserve. As you say, it would be cruel, and it would be pointless.
However, false encouragement would probably be more successful than you care to have it be. This is the time to fall back on irrelevant enthusiasm, such as "I could tell you were having fun."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My beloved mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly after 45 years of marriage to my father.
At my mother's memorial-service reception, a scant two days after my mother's cremation and a week after her death, an older man sat down at the table I was sitting at and said, loudly and repeatedly, "We need to find George a new wife. That's what we need to do. He needs another woman."
I was beyond shocked. I can only assume the gentleman did not realize he was sitting three seats away from the grief-stricken daughter of the recently departed, but am I incorrect that such conversation is always completely and utterly inappropriate in such a setting, and so soon after the unfortunate event?
What would the proper response have been on my part? I sat there too stunned to say anything. All I did was shake my head to indicate my disapproval to a friend who overheard the conversation. I feel like I should have said something to defend my mother's -- and my father's -- honor.
Please let your readers know how hurtful such suggestions can be when they come within days of a family member's death, and please enlighten those of us subjected to such talk as to how we should respond.
GENTLE READER: There are times when thoughtless is so appalling that the perpetrator must be embarrassed into realizing this so that he is prevented from doing more damage.
This is such an instance, although Miss Manners dearly hopes that you are mistaken in thinking that this kind of talk is commonplace. What you can say, with quiet dignity, is, "The family does not believe my mother is that easily replaceable. Please don't upset my father in his grief by suggesting that she is."