DEAR MISS MANNERS: When conversing, I find a new trend -- more and more people making assertive statements about me or my family.
The statements are not unpleasant, but they are often false. I feel compelled to correct them, but this puts me in the uncomfortable position of contradicting them. When it becomes a series of assertions followed by my contradictions, the conversation loses all joy.
The statements are so inoffensive on their face that anger would be inappropriate: You live in Brambly. You work at the Post Office. You have relatives in Biggity. You like ratatouille. You speak Russian.
Should I just let those statements go by even if I actually live in Gumble, work at the library, have no relatives in Biggity, abhor eggplant, and don't even know the Russian word for cat?
Initially, I thought I was encountering a family or local habit, or people who watched too many sitcoms on TV. However, several friends have brought up the distressing habit -- which seems to affect mostly people younger than ourselves but is rapidly spreading -- and we have concluded that it is a trend.
I tried humor once, saying "Perhaps I should tell you about myself instead of you telling about myself," but was met with a blank stare. Obviously, she was not aware that she was making rapid statements about me, most inaccurate, and forcing me to correct her assumptions.
Is this the new form of "How do you do?" Help, I need the new form of "Fine, thank you."
GENTLE READER: Personally, Miss Manners would be tempted to say, "My Russian is not nearly as fluent as my Pig Latin," and "That was before Brambly was overrun by the Ottoman Empire." After all, it hardly matters what you say to people who are not listening. And the strange concept called multitasking may well have increased their number.
If your object is to set your friends straight (rather than simply to amuse yourself during a nonconversation, which was Miss Manners' idea), keep asking, "Really? Who told you that?" Eventually the pattern might summon a bit of attention.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: With cold and flu season upon us, many well-meaning relatives and friends have offered me bottles of supplements or boxes of herbal teas (I am not well off financially, and I know these people have the kindest of intentions).
Alas, I just don't take any kind of herb or supplement. Because these things are pricey, I want to say, "How kind, but if you can use it, I would rather you keep it," but something tells me this is an etiquette no-no.
GENTLE READER: Refusing a present is indeed a put-down, if not a downright insult. At best, it says, "I know you mean to be thoughtful, but you didn't think enough."
Therefore, Miss Manners hopes you will be more careful when you pass on these items to someone or some organization that might be able to make good use of them. Do not characterize them as presents, but say that you cannot use them and inquire first if they would be of help.