Miss Manners: Political party talk is bound to offend

October 22, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: The U.S. elections and my quadrennial quandary draw closer. I am an expatriate, living where “communist” is a political position, rather than an insult. At social events, some other Americans ask for whom I will vote. I have tried being vague, humorous and evasive, but when pressed I tell them that I support neither candidate because I am a communist.

I am then treated to a summary of 50 years of Cold War propaganda, which appears to be unstoppable.

A social gathering is not the place for a serious political discussion, and I have offered to discuss our positions at a more appropriate time, but that fails, along with all of my attempts to extricate myself.

Have you any suggestion for avoiding this unpleasant situation, other than not accepting any invitation until December? Please do not advise me to “plead the Fifth”; my father did not, when much more was at stake, and the Recording Angel’s tears would fall like rain were I to do so.

GENTLE READER: There is a difference between invoking the Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights, which protects a defendant in a criminal case from bearing witness against himself, and doing what every lawyer advises every client: not volunteering more information than was requested.

So you could have left it at “neither one”; or, because socially you don’t have to answer nosy questions, said pleasantly, “Oh, let’s not talk politics” and proposed another topic. Being pushed does not mean you have to topple.

But Miss Manners suspects that you feel that not stating your affiliation would be disloyal or cowardly. If so, you know what to expect.

To your questioners who are visitors to the country where you live, it might be worthwhile to interrupt by saying gently, “While you’re here, you should look into what this means — it’s not at all what you think.” This should at least leave them embarrassed to be caught in critical ignorance of the place they are visiting.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it too early to send a “save the date” in October for a Christmas party? I know people get very busy around the holidays, so I want to let my friends know of a party I am planning, but I don’t want to look stupid by sending it now.

GENTLE READER: Well, there is a bit of a disconnect between your presumed hope in doing this and the likely result. Miss Manners prefers to characterize your proposal as futile, rather than stupid.

A save-the-date card binds the host to send an invitation at the proper time, but the recipient is not obligated to accept or decline until receiving the actual invitation. Thus with the possible exception of those who might write that they plan to be away at Christmas, you will not have any better an idea of those attending than you will at the proper time.

There is, however, a different kind of response your cards are likely to get, although you will be spared knowing about it. That is the groaning one hears in malls and shops that put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, never mind Halloween. The shops intend to promote anxiety that Christmas will find them unprepared unless they concentrate on it now. That is hardly the emotion you want to inspire in your guests.

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

2012, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS

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