Too Much (Intimate) Information

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dear Miss Manners:

How exactly does one respond politely to a couple (usually the wife) who earnestly inform you that they're trying to start a family?

Normally, I assume that intimate activities should not be featured as a topic of conversation in party settings, particularly if one's acquaintance with the couple is fairly recent. I'd like to discourage further comments on the issue.

A disinterested and vague "Hmm!" seems appropriate, but perhaps not supportive enough. However, coming right out and stating, "Why are you encouraging me to consider you and your husband naked?!" seems a bit much, although more suitable to my frame of mind.

Should I call attention to the fact that this is not an appropriate or comfortable topic? Should I pleasantly encourage this enthusiastic and slightly desperate wishful future parent? Should I simply and delicately change the subject?

Or you could say, "Well, then, I will ask to excuse myself. You will want to be alone."

Well, no, Miss Manners supposes not. Offering a quick good wish and changing the subject is indeed the better solution. The only decent support she knows that an acquaintance can offer in such a situation is to get out of the way -- not just of the action, but of such confidences, which come back to haunt those who made them. Should the couple be successful, they will surely want attention to be focused on the baby, not on the difficulty of conceiving one, and should they be unfortunate, they will not relish being asked for progress reports.

Dear Miss Manners:

I was under the impression, at a casual luncheon, that it was okay to pick up fried chicken with your fingers. I was informed that this is not proper, that it should be cut with a knife and fork.

Would you be so kind as to define for Miss Manners the meaning of the word "casual"? Considering how widespread its use is, and that it has come to be considered a highly desirable state, if not actually a virtue, why is it that no two people agree on its meaning?

If by a casual luncheon you mean friends taking their lunch break together in the cafeteria or a meeting at a fast-food court or a picnic in the park, yes, you can pick up your chicken. If you mean a meal at a slow-food restaurant or in someone's dining room (as opposed to someone's kitchen), no.

Dear Miss Manners:

What has become of the polite habit of RSVPing? It seems half the world totally ignores one's request. What is one to do?

Entertain the other half.

Dear Miss Manners:

What does one say to a friend who offers to sell one back one's wedding present? I gave her the gift some time before the wedding, which I was unable to attend. After the wedding, she approached me, said that she was unable to use my gift, and offered to sell it back to me. Suggestions for a civilized response would be appreciated.

"This came with my good wishes. I don't know what you think they are worth."

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.

2007Judith Martin

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