DEAR MISS MANNERS: My grandmother taught me the value of writing letters and, though I haven’t done that in quite some time, I think the current outbreak is providing us ample opportunity to be kind in simple ways.
My son and I are going to send letters to the local nursing home, which we’ve already discussed with the home to avoid any issues.
What would be the most appropriate way to greet these folks we don’t know? I know we could use a standard “Wishing you well,” but I’d like to be as kind as possible to make sure they know that we really are thinking of them and hope they are well.
GENTLE READER: This is a kindness to your son, as well as to the residents, who may now be deprived of outside contact, even from their families. Miss Manners considers empathy to be the most important quality a parent could seek to foster. And knowing how to write a graceful letter will be of surprisingly good use to him.
The letters should introduce yourselves as their neighbors, perhaps with a drawing or photograph. If the nursing home’s administration will give you a list of the residents, you can address them by their honorifics and surnames, even if there are many of them.
The staff could also tell you if it would be practical for you to drop off books, magazines or videos, or perhaps greet residents from the sidewalk or through a virtual meeting. But the letters alone should be valuable in reminding these people that they have not been abandoned by the outside world.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was asked to give a reference for a young man. When I stated that he was articulate, the caller became offended, asking me if I knew that was an insult.
The young man I gave the reference for was black, and I am an older white woman.
How can I avoid this kind of misstep in the future? What should I say about a young black man who has overcome much adversity, and who is articulate and intelligent?
GENTLE READER: Being articulate, which means being able to express oneself and one’s ideas, is surely a basic expectation. Thus you would seem to be saying this young man is not inarticulate -- implying that he is above the low expectation one would have of him.
Do you see how that becomes an insult? And it has become particularly associated with racism, as if one would not expect a black person to speak well.
If you wish to do someone a service, which is the point when agreeing to give a reference, Miss Manners considers it more effective to give specific examples of a person’s abilities rather than to resort to such vague generalizations.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I know Miss Manners has decreed that diners should eat asparagus with their fingers. Does the same directive apply to broccolini spears?
GENTLE READER: Good heavens, no. Miss Manners cautions you not to try to apply reason to tradition.
(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.)Read more in: Etiquette & Ethics | Food