Miss Manners

Miss Manners: Banal questions are best met with humor

Dear Miss Manners:

I am the mother of two charming, identical twin girls, age 9. One issue they contend with on a daily basis is that schoolmates will come up to them on the playground and interrupt their play or conversations to ask, “Which twin are you?” and then leave.

My daughters have tried to dismiss the issue with humor, saying, for example, “We’re not a guessing game,” but the other children, who are not friends but not strangers, still persist in their questions.

We have even discussed the issue with the school principal, who was not willing to address the issue even as a general reminder to students not to ask intrusive questions. The principal said, “If I don’t say that this includes twins, the students won’t get it, and if I do say that this includes twins, other twins on campus might be upset to be singled out if they don’t care about these interruptions.” She also suggested that my girls stop playing together (!) as a way to curtail the issue.

I recognize that this is just an annoyance and not a “problem” per se, but I doubt most children realize how bothersome it is to have activities constantly interrupted by the same insipid conversation. Can you offer any suggestions that might work with the school-age set?

It’s not just most children. Most people can’t stop themselves from asking or saying the obvious whenever they meet someone — and it is not only twins who inspire this banality. It can be anyone who is even slightly taller, shorter, thinner or fatter than average, anyone with a slightly unusual name, and just about everyone whose occupation inspires a cliche (and they all do).

A lecture is not going to help. Even if everyone there got it, knocking this impulse out of all the people your daughters will meet throughout life is not feasible. Miss Manners knows, because she has been trying.

The girls’ approach of responding with humor is better, and Miss Manners’s only suggestion is that they also puzzle their interlocutors into momentary silence. They might say, “We’ve never been able to figure that out,” or, “Is there really only one of you?” or, in unison, “I’m the other one.”

Dear Miss Manners:

My former partner and I ended our relationship earlier this year. (We made this decision for a number of reasons, the main one being his infidelity.) His wish was that we remain friends; however, I asked for us to take some time apart to allow me to recover from what was, for the most part, a difficult and unhappy relationship.

I am expecting to hear from him within the next few months about re-establishing contact, but after a great deal of thought I have realized that I am happier without him as a part of my life, and that maintaining a friendship probably wouldn’t be the best idea.

May I please ask your advice on how best to explain this to him? Ignoring him seems unnecessarily rude, but I am unsure what I can say that won’t sound hurtful or offensive.

“Still moving along. I’ll call you when I get there.” Miss Manners suggests refraining from adding, “But don’t wait up.”

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

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