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.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife's grandson is getting married. She has been married four times and her husband cannot make the trip. Her kids asked her to walk in with her first husband. Is this acceptable or bad taste?
GENTLE READER: That depends. Is her first husband the children's father -- or simply their favorite? If the former, it is acceptable. If the latter, in poor taste. Her fourth husband might point that out.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a colleague (a subordinate) who is terminally ill with ALS, and her condition is rapidly deteriorating. When she notifies me and her other supervisors by email that she will take a sick day, I have no idea how to properly respond.
With anyone else (not terminally ill) I would say, feel better soon, get well, etc. I feel these are not appropriate, as she is not going to get better. Just saying message received or not responding at all seems rude.
What would be the appropriate way to acknowledge that she is out sick in this situation? I care about her, having known her for about 15 years, and this whole situation breaks my heart. We cannot call her, as the disease has impacted her speech and she no longer answers the phone.
GENTLE READER: Respond to the email professionally, but compassionately saying, "Thank you for letting us know, as we are all concerned about you. One of us will email to check on you to see if there is anything you need."
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)