Miss Manners: Nosy inquiries about leg scars deserve joking response

August 17

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Up until about a year ago, I habitually self-injured. I was able to work through my problems and cut out the habit, but I am left with a number of scars on my legs. They are visible from a distance and clearly (at least to anyone even marginally aware of the nature of accidents) deliberately inflicted.

It’s usually not a social problem, as regular pants cover them nicely. But when I wear shorts or skirts, people (friends, acquaintances and strangers) ask about them, or worse, simply point them out. This is usually in casual conversation, often in a group.

The people with whom I am comfortable openly discussing this are already aware of my situation. I realize that others are trying to show concern, but even if I responded honestly, it’s probably not a conversation they actually want to have.

I usually get flustered and make a lame excuse or change the subject. What would be a good way to casually discourage additional conversation on the topic without getting flustered or killing the mood?

GENTLE READER: “I walked into a lawn mower.” Or perhaps, “I really have to buy a better shredder.” Or whatever else occurs to you that is outrageous enough to make it clear that you are joking.

The dense may have follow-up questions, to which you should reply firmly, “Thank you for your interest, but I’m fine now.” Notice that Miss Manners calls it “interest,” not “concern.” As old scars would show that you are not in immediate danger, those inquiries are not compassionate but merely nosy.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have made friends with another couple from church and we’ve invited them over for dinner a few times. Each time they’ve come over, we have cooked traditional Italian meals and dessert.

They have reciprocated by inviting us over to their place, where they have provided ordered-in food. These meals are not cheap, I’m sure, and I’m torn as to whether my husband and I should offer to pay for our portion of food.

We always offer to bring a bottle of wine or dessert, but is that enough? On one hand I’d hate for them to feel taken advantage of, but on the other I feel as though we alternate pretty fairly with who furnishes the meal.

GENTLE READER: In this Age of Greed, it is difficult to understand that giving money can be an insult.

Miss Manners knows you mean well, but paying your friends would tell them that you noticed that while you provided a home-cooked meal, they did not, and that they should not imagine that they have reciprocated, because you are paying your own way.

Your better thought is that what is important here is hospitality, not the food or what it cost.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the correct thing to do if you are to attend a baby shower, but then you have a funeral for a family member (a not-close in-law) happen at the same time? Attend the already RSVP’d shower or the funeral?

GENTLE READER: The funeral. Miss Manners recognizes few excuses for canceling a social commitment, but death is a legitimate excuse. No one will think you have abandoned the shower for something that promises more fun.

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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