Q: If a nice young boy named David appears at your daughter's birthday party with a gift of white pajamas with blue polka dots, what is the mother's appropriate response:
1. Sigh and faint.
2. Shout, "Oh, my God!"
3. Ridicule the boy.
4. Throw them in his face.
5. Shout, "Oh, how she needs them!"
6. Smile and say, "I know you know she didn't need a fig leaf. This is a joke."
7. Quietly respect the intent of a boy who hadn't made a religion of cheap perfume.
Now, this hasn't happened to me, but it happened to my mother, and she was quiet. I kept them. I was 18.
A: Eighteen? Good grief. You wouldn't like to make that 8, would you?
No, Miss Manners supposes not. And to think that people accuse Miss Manners of making up the questions she answers! If she did, you may be sure that she would have made the age in this one such that the mother could reply, "Why, David, dear, did your mother choose this sweet little playsuit for Rosebud?"
Back to grim reality. A young lady of 18 may not accept clothing, certainly not pajamas, from a young gentleman. But she may play what Miss Manners believes interrogating squads call "good guy, bad guy," by saying, "I think they're cute, but my mother would never let me keep them." If the mother is standing by, she has to take this all on herself, saying, "Now, I know I'm going to disappoint Rosalinda, but David, dear, she simply cannot accept this, however innocently you meant it."
David, who really meant to brag in the locker room that Rosy was wearing his pajamas, will have no choice but to keep quiet and accept this.
Q: Enough! How do I fend off people who want to describe pathological conditions to me?
Among friends, and over lunch at that, I can discuss diaper rash, autopsies and disease-bearing parasites with the best of them. Also, when my friends want to talk about their personal medical symptoms, they are understanding if I say that I'm not in the mood to listen.
The problem is with acquaintances--other women who catch me in the elevator or at my desk drinking tea, and, without warning, describe what just happened in the restroom. Gross. If they were talking about major surgery, I might be fascinated; it's the little miseries whose recounting offends me. And what offends me most is that it seems a bid for an intimacy that I neither sought nor desire. Since no closeness has been established between these people and me, I can think of no graceful way to tell them that they are out of bounds.
A few are uninhibited loudmouths, but the rest are petulant sorts who sulk when someone fails to indulge them. I manage to get along with them better than many of my office mates do, but if this keeps up, my job will no longer compensate me for the effort it takes to remain cordial.
A: Although Miss Manners never allows people to fight rudeness with rudeness, she permits fighting illness with illness. Here is how it is done:
As soon as you sense which way the statement is going, close off your nostrils, close your mouth, and move your throat as if you were blowing out. This will not make you sick in any way, but it will make you look sick. The eyes automatically widen strangely, as if they were trying to create the opening demanded by the throat.
Then blurt out quickly, "What do you do for queasiness?", get up and leave your desk or get off the elevator, shouting over your shoulder, "I'll be right back, don't worry about me," and disappear to the water fountain, restroom or snack bar, depending on how long you are willing to invest. By the time you return, the problem will be cured.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. Copyright (c) 1982, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.