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A Pregnant Pause

Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page C12

Dear Miss Manners:

How does one respond to the increasing enthusiasm of pregnant youngsters? Twice in the last year, co-workers have buttonholed me to admire the ultrasound photos of their yet-unborn offspring.

I find myself dreading the inevitable march of new technologies; sooner or later, I fear these medical snapshots will cease to be mercifully dim and grainy. (Color, no doubt, will follow.)

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I already had very little wish to examine the internal organs of my co-workers and their significant others, but today arrived a fresh challenge. I received an e-mailed "It's a Boy!" message concerning a fetus in its third trimester that has already been named. May I send one-third of a congratulatory greeting card?

Something has to be done before this becomes the conventional thing to do. Overly enthusiastic parents-to-be would then move on to showing pictures taken earlier in the process.

Miss Manners trusts you know that you are obliged to make a pleasant fuss over baby pictures, cooing and gratifying the parents with some remark that passes for admiration. But to peek at someone who is not yet ready to come out of the womb is unseemly. If asked if you want to see the ultrasounds, you can intimate this by saying, "Oh, no, thank you, I'll wait. But I'll be eager to see pictures of him when he is born."

Caught unawares with such pictures thrust before your eyes, your best defense is to refuse to believe what you are seeing. It is too mean to play on parents' fears by inquiring anxiously, "Is he going to be all right?" But asking "When was she born?" or "You mean it's not finished yet?" will force them into explanations that may -- or may not -- plant the idea that inviting people to admire one's insides is neither conventional nor rewarding.

Dear Miss Manners:

Recently I assisted a woman and her two children with directions and was "thanked" with a comment that seemed inappropriate and self-serving. The woman said, "Have a blessed day."

I was terribly offended and believe her response meant she was fulfilling some commitment to herself to display her religious beliefs regardless of the appropriateness of displaying her religion to me. Will you comment on what response I could have used to convey my displeasure?

"Thank you." True, it is what the lady should have said, but what she did say was a mere pleasantry, neither a benediction nor an attempt to proselytize. Miss Manners believes it might help if you persuaded yourself to think of the remark as an abbreviated form of, "Bless you, kind sir, for having rescued my family and me."

Dear Miss Manners:

How is one to respond to "You look so youthful!" I know the right answer of course; it's "Thank you." But, still. It peeves.

Then try adding wistfully, "But I would so much prefer to look wise."

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

© 2005, Judith Martin


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