DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 17-year-old daughter has a serious boyfriend. Recently I have had three separate individuals ask me if she is having sex, since she is in a serious relationship.
I am appalled! Since when has it become acceptable to ask about anyone's -- especially a teenager's -- personal life?
I try to deflect this by saying that her private life is private -- but these same individuals then try and instruct me that I should have a more open dialogue with her about sex.
Miss Manners, my daughter and I have a lovely and communicative relationship, but I have no desire to share this information with nosy outsiders. How can I reply to these outlandish questions in a way that does not hint at any private details while putting an end to this inappropriate line of questioning?
GENTLE READER: These people can hardly wait to lecture you on how naive and old-fashioned you are to object to such questions. And if you try to argue otherwise, this vulgar haranguing will only get worse.
So Miss Manners advises you to startle them by going with the implied accusation of being prudish. This is counterintuitive, she knows, but it works.
Thus you would take on an expression of shock and exclaim, "Are you insulting my daughter?"
This will force them to claim that all young people are sexually active -- and that gives you the chance to say, "Are they really? And they don't even mind if their parents repeat their confidences to anyone who happens to be curious?"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the correct way to address someone who has a terminal illness?
GENTLE READER: As a living human being.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am in second grade and sometimes read your column. Here is my question: Is it ever polite to burp out loud? I was wondering this because my brothers burp a lot, and they say in some cultures it is polite to burp to show that you like the food.
GENTLE READER: Knowing about different cultures is important, and Miss Manners gathers that your brothers have learned that there are other languages of behavior, just as there are other languages that different people speak.
The next lesson is when to use such languages. For example, it would be wonderful if they could speak Japanese. But would they go around speaking it to Americans who did not understand?
There are places where burping is understood to be acceptable. In America, it is considered unfortunate at best, but rude if no attempt is made to control it.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My nephew is getting married. They have a limited budget. Would it be tacky to offer them the cake topper and unity candle from my wedding? I will never use them again and have no children to hand them down to.
GENTLE READER: To offer items for which you have no use because you think the recipients are too hard up to buy their own will not endear you to them. Miss Manners thinks you would get a better reaction by saying that you would be honored if they would use the topper and candle because they mean so much to you.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)