Miss Manners: Don’t give compliments to those who can’t accept them

July 2

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I recently called a friend of mine cute. She replied, in a very angry tone, “Women are not called cute. I am a grown woman.”

I was shocked. Am I wrong?

GENTLE READER: Apparently, since her irate response must have rendered her decidedly less cute.

Compliments are subjective, but should not be subjected to such scrutiny if they are kindly intended. If it happens again, Miss Manners advises you to look abashed and say, “I am so sorry. I meant it as a compliment,” and refrain from any further ones until your friend learns how to accept them graciously.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is to be done about those with the tendency to make virtues of their faults?

I’m thinking of a woman I met who started off the evening by warning us, “I talk too much. My husband tells me all the time at dinner to shut up, but I just don’t.” She then proceeded to show us exactly what she meant by talking entirely too much throughout cocktails, dinner and dessert.

If that weren’t bad enough, she persisted in asking my husband and me three times when we were going to have children. I racked my brain for the right response, even saying, “Oh, dear. What would Miss Manners say in this position?” But the woman didn’t get the joke or take the hint.

My husband and I squirreled out of the uncomfortable position she continued to put us in, but I was still irritated. I have another friend who does this sort of thing — admits she talks too much, but instead of trying to contain herself, she goes on blathering.

What annoys me is that it seems these people are trying to put themselves in a position of “You can’t get mad at me — I just admitted I’m fragile and socially awkward.” But I wonder what can politely be done with this type of person, besides leaving the room?

GENTLE READER: Unfortunately, you can’t agree or leave the room without a covering excuse, but you certainly do not have to answer impertinent questions.

Miss Manners concurs that the behavior you describe is both unattractive and common. To insult oneself before another gets a chance to do so eliminates the need — in the blatherer’s mind — to control the offense. Furthermore, it somehow requests sympathy when no apology is actually being made.

In the first case, if you are very, very careful to avoid any hint of sarcasm, Miss Manners will permit you to divert unwanted questions by responding: “I would answer you, but surely you don’t want me to go on and on. I wouldn’t want to be reprimanded by your husband.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How do I politely remove a shell from a crab salad from my mouth?

GENTLE READER: The general rule is that inedibles go out the way they went in — the shell from crab salad should be deposited on the fork that brought it to your mouth.

The trick is to do it discreetly. Only if you needed to remove it from your throat would Miss Manners condone your making a scene.

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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