Q. I hesitate to make a recommendation to so outstanding an authority, but experience compels me. Miss Manners might suggest, before Christmas, that unless a specific invitation is being extended, Generous Souls -- and others -- refrain from asking people who are alone:
a) What are your plans for Christmas?
b) Did you have a nice Christmas?
c) What did you do for Christmas?
It saves painful embarrassment if the answer is:
A. Conventional conversation is full of such questions, and one has to learn that they are only the meaningless devices of light sociability, and not attempts to probe for information. Otherwise, an unhappy person could suffer fresh pain every time someone said, "How have things been going?" or "I hope you have a pleasant weekend."
Miss Manners understands that the Christmas season's emphasis on family life may produce some melancholy in those who live alone. But she cannot go along with the suggestion of making other people censor their careless conversation so as to avoid adding to their pain, as one watches one's words in front of someone in the midst of an acute tragedy. This artificiality, prompted by pity, is helpful to avoid jarring the feelings of a person in crisis, but bad and patronizing in a long-term situation.
Questions a, b and c, can be answered "Oh, the usual -- what about you?" or one can say one is planning or has spent Christmas "over-eating."
Q. Recently, I invited a gentleman friend to dinner. During dinner, he picked up the phone and in a spontaneous and independent flight of fancy, invited a lady friend of his and her two children (approximately 9 and 5 years of age) to join us after dinner.
Later, after this group departed, two of my housemates noticed that one of the Sony TV's rabbit ears was broken off. I called my friend, told him what happened, and suggested that he and his lady friend talk to the children about it. I never heard from the lady, but in a series of awkward and unpleasant phone calls, my friend told me they had decided the children were not responsible, since I had no proof, and therefore the children could not be questioned.
He also chided me for various personal shortcomings -- apparently I was not sufficiently sensitive to the distress and hurt feelings I had caused him and his lady friend; indeed, I had made him cry by speaking of the incident. Finally, I said I would like the antenna replaced without further discussion.
One morning, he appeared with a furiously angry expression and, not responding to my greeting, thrust at me a set of rabbit ears with the price tag prominently displayed. Now he wishes to resume our friendship as if nothing had happened. Is it permissible to explain that I don't feel like socializing with a childish, unmannerly clod, or is this a petty overreaction on my part?
A. When your rabbit's ears were hopelessly broken, you recognized the fact, discarded them and got a replacement. Now do the same thing with this friendship.