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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Friend Puts Foot in Mouth During Video Call

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are both recovering from the coronavirus. At the beginning of a video call with another couple over the weekend, I asked them, “How are you keeping?”

And the answer came back, “We are keeping a lot better than you, by the sound of it.”

It certainly felt like a put-down. I let it pass because it probably would have been too upsetting to do much else. What would be a good reply -- or should I just blame my husband for having talked about his symptoms too much in a previous phone call?

GENTLE READER: It has come to Miss Manners' attention that people without ill intentions sometimes blurt out mildly hurtful observations, as she presumes happened in the case you describe. Whether the inspiration is a momentary lapse in judgment or a misguided attempt at humor or familiarity does not matter.

The correct response is not to pretend everything is fine, but to give a subtle indication that it is not fine, so that the speaker has a chance to revise those remarks for the record. A flat “hm” or pause qualifies; a scowl does not.

Blaming your husband for this exchange, even if he was overly forthcoming in a prior encounter, seems neither subtle nor fair.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Some of my relatives hold political views that I find truly appalling. It has become apparent that their views are not merely different from my own, but rather that these relatives are fully on board with authoritarianism.

So far, I have bitten my tongue and kept silent, but I now feel that my silence gives them license to continue to loudly espouse these beliefs. I have come to the conclusion that there is no middle ground nor any polite way to “agree to disagree,” and have decided to shun them from this point forward.

Is there any way, under the rules of etiquette, for me to state plainly and clearly to them precisely why I have chosen to sever all contact with them? If I promise to do so in a neutral tone of voice and without letting my anger and disgust overcome me, can I tell them why? Or is the only appropriate and dignified approach to simply remain silent and cut contact?

GENTLE READER: You, together with your authoritarian-minded relatives, made your collective choice between finding a way to continue the relationship -- presumably by agreeing to mutual restraint, if not absolute silence -- and speaking your mind whatever the cost, which, in this case, will be the relationship.

You chose the latter. Miss Manners is therefore suspicious of your promise to be neutral and dignified now. What you propose is also unnecessary: They will know what happened -- just as you know, without having to be told, that Miss Manners cannot condone your scolding them as they walk out the door.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)