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Miss Manners: How do I respond to intrusive questions about my health?

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Dear Miss Manners: I was invited to a friend’s home for lunch with a group of other women. While we were all seated and enjoying the lovely lunch provided by our hostess, one of the women sitting by me began interrogating me about my health. She asked me very intrusive questions in a rude, loud, belligerent voice that could be heard throughout the house.

The other women at the table were all watching us and could hear the entire conversation. I am a very private person who doesn't like to make my health concerns public knowledge, and I am unhappy about having my privacy violated.

I have since thought that I should have stopped her by saying, “Is there some reason that you feel the need to know?” Or “If you would like to discuss my health, would you mind doing so in private?”

But I was caught off-guard and couldn’t think of those kinds of responses. What would you suggest for such a situation?

The trouble with the popular “why-do-you-need-to know?” response is that it prompts a reply from the defensive busybody, who will be sure to claim that she was only asking out of concern for you. This is a conversation you do not want to have.

Miss Manners’ answer to those nosy questions would be “I’m fine, thank you; how are you?” in the tone of voice that dismisses the inquiry as a mere convention.

You will probably have to keep repeating this, as it provokes the “But how are you, REALLY?” follow-up. That can finally be cut off with a firm “I appreciate your concern, but as I keep telling you, I am fine. Now how are you?”

Dear Miss Manners: After the birth of my child last year, my aunt surprised me with the gift of a new rocking chair. I graciously accepted, even though I had very little space for it in my home and I already owned a rocking chair.

Over time, it became apparent that the chair was poorly made and low quality. It creaks, has thin padding, does not fit both mom and a growing baby comfortably, etc.

The baby is now 1 year old, and I would love to reclaim the precious space taken up by this low-quality chair. Is it rude or ungrateful to get rid of an expensive gift if it no longer serves you well?

Once given, a present is yours to handle as you wish. You do not have to keep this chair, waiting for the day you can persuade the baby that it is just the thing for a college dormitory room.

Miss Manners guesses that you are wondering what to say in case your aunt finds her way into the nursery. The answer is nothing, unless the aunt makes the mistake of asking. With any luck, she will think your old rocker is the one she sent.

But should she ask, a useful, meaningless answer should be, “We were so glad to have it; thank you. But now Maeve is finally sleeping through the night, thank goodness.”

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

©2022 by Judith Martin

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