DEAR MISS MANNERS: Somewhere in the midst of my extended education, I have significant knowledge gaps -- gaps that no one else seems to have.
I am American and live here now, but grew up and was educated abroad. I also have an ardent love of history and all things of the past, which is the focus of much of my time and energy. These two factors leave me susceptible to not understanding what people are talking about in common conversation.
This happens often. Sometimes I admit to not knowing what or who is being discussed, and am half-jokingly dismissed/excused: “Oh, she’s just from XYZ.” Other times I keep silent.
Is there a way to ask someone to clarify or add context that will allow me to know who or what is being discussed while saving face? Would I be rude for asking and interrupting the flow of conversation, or is the speaker rude for assuming knowledge on the part of listeners?
GENTLE READER: In this era of 24-hour entertainment, it seems highly unlikely to Miss Manners that any one person could possibly recognize every reference made in casual conversation.
If you find yourself lost, you may interject for clarification without shame -- and even make your own references as counterpoints. That is how conversation works. And while comparing the latest viral video to the imagery of Baudelaire will probably not make you friends, it will certainly make your point.