DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am someone with rather striking features. While my parents brought me up to believe that one should compliment people on their accomplishments rather than on any immutable characteristics, I'm generally OK with compliments and can usually find a way to thank them and promptly change the subject.
What I'm less OK with is the set of follow-up questions. "Where are you from?" I was born here. "No, but where are you from?" I'm even less OK with the "What ARE you?" question.
No, I'm not part X. Nor am I East Ruritanian. And NO, I did not model when I was younger. Is there a way to gracefully dodge this question?
When faced with actual rudeness, I can muster up a scandalized expression and an "I beg your pardon?" But what about the well-intentioned?
Until now I've mostly deployed a wan smile and changed the subject. If pressed by a complete stranger, I will sometimes offer up some wholly false ancestral information.
But it becomes even more problematic when I'm accompanied by my nephews. Both of them are of mixed ancestry and look absolutely nothing like each other. While I can usually brush off the occasional intrusion, they are much too young. My nephew, when asked, has stated that he's a fireman, which I think is an excellent response. But what does Miss Manners recommend?
GENTLE READER: Listen to your nephew. His approach hits just the right tone -- lighthearted, but confusing enough to cease further inquiry.
In less volatile times, Miss Manners would have recommended a quizzical look followed by, "I am American." Unfortunately, now those seem like fighting words. The nonsensical response to offensive fishing expeditions of "what you are" might work best. A young friend of Miss Manners' suggests a gummy bear.