Miss Manners: Apologize for offensive remark with judicious editing

January 29

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I felt compelled to apologize to a friend for a careless remark I made at a dinner party because, although it was of a general nature, on reflection I think it might have caused offense. I composed a sincere apology and sent it by e-mail. She replied by saying she didn’t recall anything that was offensive and jokingly asked what had I said.

Should I have politely said, “Let’s just leave it in the past,” and left her wondering? Or am I now worse off for having offered up my stupid statement again, but with fewer words? Our conversation ended amicably, but I am not sure I handled it well.

GENTLE READER: Your friend certainly handled it well, reassuring you to the extent of claiming that she didn’t even remember your saying anything that could have been construed as offensive. Even her little joke offered you the opportunity to edit your remark, or to add, “. . . but what I meant was” and then declare the opposite of what you said.

You missed doing that, but Miss Manners would not have advised you to leave your friend guessing. You wouldn’t want to challenge her to find something that can be interpreted as rude.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter is in kindergarten and was invited to a friendship party hosted by a classmate at a martial arts school. Should she bring a gift?

GENTLE READER: Yes. The gift of friendship.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 4-year-old is beginning to observe other people when we are out in public and, on occasion, she will ask me about someone who is of a different race, or has their hair dyed pink, a nose ring, a turban, is disabled, very tall, etc.

She’s not referring to these people in a derogatory way by any means, but is curious about their differences.

I tell her that people come in all different shapes, shades and sizes, and that’s what makes the world so interesting. Or I say, “Yes, she does have pink hair — isn’t that pretty!” and then change the subject.

But sometimes she asks me about someone within hearing distance of that person. Do I need to say anything to these people? Apologizing for my daughter’s inquiries doesn’t seem exactly right, since my daughter is not doing anything wrong, but is merely doing what curious 4-year-olds do. (I do, however, reprimand her if she points at people.)

What should I do while we trudge through this “Why? Why? Why?” stage?

GENTLE READER: Ah, childhood — when we begin to master the finer points of tact, acceptance and discretion. And so do our children.

If the child is not directly addressing the person in question, there is no need for you to do so. Simple, respectful explanations — as you have been giving — are all that is required, perhaps at a slightly raised volume so that there is no question as to content. Miss Manners assures you that people with “differences” have heard it all, but they — as well as those around them — will likely be as interested as your child to hear a sensitive explanation.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

2014, by Judith Martin

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