DEAR MISS MANNERS: For 50-plus years, I went to work in jeans and T-shirts. Typically, the only winter coat I could afford was a nice insulated sweatshirt.
But a few years ago, at age 67, I landed my dream job. It pays well, too. It is amusing that, even though my work ethic and abilities did not change one whit, people view me entirely differently because of the title, the secretary and the clothes.
Miss Manners, how would you recommend I answer questions like, “What a lovely dress; what is it made of?” or, “Where did you get those fabulous shoes?”
The truthful answers are “cashmere” and “They are custom-made.” I would prefer to deflect these questions, but brushing them off seems patronizing.
How do people who are accustomed to being well-off gracefully handle such questions?
GENTLE READER: Not every question has to be answered, and not every answer has to be relevant. Miss Manners can suggest a variety of remarks to make -- ”I’m glad you like it,” “Thank you; it’s really soft,” “They’re comfortable, too” -- before you change the subject to the day’s business.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When the British eat soup, they spoon away from themselves. Why do Americans spoon towards themselves?
GENTLE READER: They don’t. At least, polite Americans do not.
Lest you think that Miss Manners endorses British table manners for Americans, let her assure you to the contrary. In that matter of switching the fork to the right hand, the American method is the more traditional one, imported when it was still practiced in Europe, but later abandoned there in the interest of speed.
But no one of sense, American or British, would think it wise to push hot liquid in one’s own direction.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a dear friend in another country who I correspond with regularly via email. We talk of life and love and her children and personal dilemmas, and do our best to lean on each other (as all strong women should!) from a distance.
However, as our relationship carries on and new situations arise, she (a devout Christian) has increased her inclusion of religious thoughts and ideals, as well as Bible passages and, if I’m honest, quite a bit of pious preaching. While I love and respect her devotion, I find myself increasingly uncomfortable, and my responses are obviously glossing over her religious topics by a mile.
Can I ask her to refrain from the religious chat? How do I broach the subject without damaging our lovely correspondence?
GENTLE READER: That the usual method of turning away from discussion of religion would be difficult here, Miss Manners can see. Declaring your religious views personal might seem odd to someone with whom you discuss love, family, and whatever else you mean by “personal dilemmas.”
You can still do it if you put it on yourself: “I find I’m not really able to talk about religion.” But as your friend evidently considers it relevant to all aspects of her life, it would be easier just to fail to respond on that subject while you continue to address other matters.
(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.)