DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the correct response when people tell me to smile?
I am not at a photographer's studio or where photos are being taken. I'm just going about my business.
The other evening, I was waiting for my husband to bring the car around to the door to go home from a social function we had attended. An acquaintance was getting her coat at the coat check. We exchanged some pleasantries when out of the blue she told me to smile.
I told her that really annoys me when people say that to me. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, we bid each other goodnight.
This request to smile has happened to me more than once. I am a reserved person and not one who goes around grinning from ear to ear. I'm not sad or mad. I'm just me.
How should I handle this request? Am I obligated to give them a big toothy smile? Was I rude to my acquaintance? Do I owe her an apology? I am perplexed by this command.
GENTLE READER: It is indeed both common and rude to command others to smile, as if this conferred a favor by improving their outlook on life.
Miss Manners was once told this by a stranger on an airplane, although she was dressed in black from head to toe, on her way to attend a funeral. Later she regretted that she had restrained herself from bursting into tears.
Still, your chastising the offender was rude. You could have conveyed the point politely by asking, "Why? Did you say something amusing?"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife and I have been paying for our granddaughters' private elementary school tuition. We would like the other grandparents (my son-in-law's parents) to take turns or to share the costs with us.
Should we ask them directly by phone, write them a letter or ask my son-in-law to speak to them?
GENTLE READER: It seems fair enough, doesn't it? After all, the children are their grandchildren, too. So why does Miss Manners smell disaster?
It is because although your generosity is commendable, it does not give you license to demand it from others. Aside from its not being your business, you cannot know these people's resources, priorities and obligations.
Oh, yes, you say. They take expensive cruises, bought a new car, wear fancy clothes or whatever else you may have observed. Sorry, that does not count. It is still not your money.
What you may do is tell your daughter and son-in-law that you are finding the tuition bills something of a strain and would like to cut back to half if other resources can be found short of removing the children from their school.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there a time limit after which one should not offer an apology for fear of raising a hopefully long-forgotten ugly experience back into the mind of the one offended?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners has news for you: They remember. And no, there is no statute of limitations absolving you of apologizing. You just have to do so more abjectly.