DEAR MISS MANNERS: As an educator of middle and high school students for 20 years, I have had my share of interesting comments and have learned how to handle the majority of them politely and appropriately.
However, one that I still struggle with is when students ask questions about my personal appearance, such as if I color my hair, for example. Of course I believe it is none of their business but have learned that answering as such only escalates their interest.
I feel that although, in the big scheme of things, they could ask much worse questions, part of my job is also teaching them life skills, and I want to respond in such a way that they understand the inappropriateness of asking personal questions of those they do not have a personal relationship with. Do you have any suggestions of what I might say in response that would close matters such as these?
GENTLE READER: Who can doubt that teaching people not to ask nosy questions is a much-needed skill in our society?
Miss Manners is aware that you also want to encourage inquiring young minds, and that you may even have urged your students to ask you anything. So while you may dismiss these questions by saying pleasantly (as opposed to defensively) "I don't discuss personal matters," you are right to make them understand why. Especially before they start asking you about your love life.
Nowadays, you will have to begin by explaining the concept of privacy. This will not be easy at a time when it is believed that anything not paraded around in public must be a source of shame. One example might be how they feel when their parents tell cute stories about when they were babies -- nothing to be ashamed of, but not something they enjoy having spread.
Still, the young will have trouble understanding the concept of information that is kept for private enjoyment or withheld exactly because one does not want to conduct a poll about it (which is the inevitable sequel to that unwarranted inquiry). But it will be a service to humanity if you are able to introduce them to the lost concept of None of Your Business.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My brother and I just laid our father to rest. We are sending thank you cards, with special cards to all who helped and the small cards supplied by the funeral home to those who came to pay respect.
Do we send cards to family? Our sister has suffered the same loss as ours. What about our father's siblings, his grandchildren and our cousins? Did I mention we have a large family?
GENTLE READER: But it is composed of individuals to whom you are related, is it not?
While you do not thank other survivors for attending the funeral or doing their share of family duties, surely this is the time to reach out to them in your shared grief.
Standard cards would be offensive, and indeed, anyone who has written or paid a call or sent flowers deserves a letter of thanks. What you can do for relatives is to share any evidence of your father's esteem for them, and that is best done directly.