DEAR MISS MANNERS: We just received wonderful news: Our 34-year-daughter and her husband are expecting their first child. She was born with cerebral palsy that mostly affected her legs; life hasn’t always been easy for her, but she’s able to get around and has lived a mostly normal life.
What really galls me is that I’ve told a few people my daughter is pregnant and they actually said to me, “Is she going to be OK? Can she actually have a child?”
I was floored when they said that. I said, “I’m not sure what you mean. Do you want to explain --” and then they would say, “Oh, nothing, we just thought because of her condition ...”
Comments like that really anger me, and I’m not sure how to respond without really blowing a gasket. I think they are rude and make it sound like my daughter is “damaged” in some way. How should I handle these insensitive comments?
GENTLE READER: As you have discovered, it is a bad idea to ask such people to explain, because then they do. Rather, you should make it clear that you will not tolerate that line of questioning.
The civil way to do this is to respond to their words, not their meaning. So to the question about whether your daughter can have a child, Miss Manners suggests, “That is the usual result of pregnancy, isn’t it?” Other references to her “condition” would entitle you to explain, “Her condition has been diagnosed as pregnancy.” Then, as a prompt to what the reaction should have been: “... and we are all thrilled.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: At what rank should we discontinue addressing people with honorifics after they are no longer in the role? Presidents seemingly remain presidents forever. Diplomats are ambassadors for life. Congress people, ditto. Generals and admirals seem to get the same treatment. So should we call our acquaintance John Smith “lieutenant” or “sergeant”?
GENTLE READER: Well, the rule is that unique titles, such as president of the United States, are held by only one person at the same time. Nobody follows this rule, least of all former presidents, who always address one another by that title.
Miss Manners would have thought that if one has been president, everyone knows it, and it is charmingly modest to revert to a nonexclusive title -- as, for example, did Gen. Washington. (Military officers retain their titles.)
But in these political, acrimonious times, she supposes that it would seem like a slur not to do so.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Using a knife and fork to eat crispy bacon causes it to shatter. It is then difficult to pick up the shards and crumbles on the fork. Is it ever appropriate to eat crispy bacon by picking it up with the fingers?
GENTLE READER: Both of these phenomena are true. Miss Manners recognizes that you make an excellent argument for eating breakfast alone.
(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.)