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Conflict of Interest

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dear Miss Manners:

I am a young lady in my first year of law school. Often when I tell people this, their response is to comment on the cost of tuition at elite schools and hypothesize on the number or amount of loans that I will have when I graduate.

These sorts of comments make me very uncomfortable as I would rather not discuss my personal finances with people I often have just met. Moreover, as I am in the fortunate position of being faced with virtually no debt coming out of school, I find that I have no response to their inquiries. I assume that Miss Manners would consider me responding with "Don't worry because I'm filthy rich" bad manners.

I know that these sorts of comments are more often than not meant as off-the-cuff remarks intended more for the purposes of conversation than offense, but I have been brought up to believe that it is inappropriate to discuss finances with people whom one is not well acquainted with. Is it wrong to find these sorts of comments off-putting, and am I wrong to wish that people would not make such comments? Is there an appropriate way to deal with inquiries about finances, other then a wry smile and an awkward pause?

If you dislike the unfiltered remarks people make when hearing that you are in law school, wait until you hear what they say when you are a lawyer.

Miss Manners is afraid that a great deal of casual conversation consists of the first things that pop out of the tops of people's heads without passing through the brain. Sort of like most e-mail.

Lawyer jokes are especially popular among those devoted to cliches, although every profession attracts its share of derogatory remarks. So perfecting the awkward pause might be useful.

Miss Manners recommends a mirthless smile rather than a wry one. The corners of the mouth rise, but nothing else on the face moves. The pause created by not responding should be awkward only for the person who made the awkward comments.

However, if you feel you have to say something, here are two suggestions:

"Education is expensive, isn't it? I don't know why anyone bothers."

"You're so kind to worry about me. I think I'll manage, but I'll keep you in mind if I run into trouble."

Dear Miss Manners:

My grandmother received a phone call from her late husband's brother's wife this week. She tells my grandmother that her husband would like the set of china back that he gave to my grandmother and grandfather as a wedding gift 60 years ago. He brought the china back from Germany while in the service, and he wants to give it to his children. He did not tell this to my grandmother directly; he had his wife tell her.

Is my grandmother (and everyone around her) correct in feeling that this is a rude request and a gift is a gift (you don't get to ask for it back)? Please shed some light on this subject.

It is a harsh light, Miss Manners warns you, and it reveals more etiquette violations than the one you mentioned.

Not only is it wrong to ask to have a present returned, but it is wrong to angle for an inheritance, and a premature one at that. Your grandmother should refuse to discuss any such thing by saying that she is still eating from these plates.

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

2006Judith Martin

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