Dear Miss Manners:
On behalf of myself and body-pierced and/or tattooed individuals everywhere, I'm writing to see if you can help me craft an appropriate response to rude comments and inquiries about my nose ring, brightly colored forearm and other nontraditional bodily decorations.
I am, of course, aware that one who chooses to groom himself with the aid of colored inks, needles and large pieces of metal must expect a certain amount of attention from segments of society for whom such adornments are considered unusual. But I always thought that etiquette required observations about another's appearance to be complimentary -- or left unvoiced. I cannot count the number of times I have been greeted with unpleasant comments from strangers, acquaintances and friends alike.
I have learned to accept the conversational gambit "Wow, didn't that hurt?" as one of those innocuous, semantically null phrases that are used to lubricate social intercourse. But reactions of outright hostility are just as common, and I would prefer to meet them with a polite but pithy response rather than making apologies for my choice of adornment.
I have often employed the phrase "I'll take that as the compliment I'm sure you intended it to be," but I don't trust myself not to sound at least a little flip when I say it. Your assistance in concocting a slightly less snide turn of phrase would be greatly appreciated.
Not as much as Miss Manners appreciates your determination to answer rude remarks politely, without running the risk of sounding flip or snide. She assures you that the response you have been using is within the bounds of courtesy, even if it is intended to constitute a rebuke, although it must be delivered blandly.
It is also more effective that way, so you might want to practice.
Dear Miss Manners:
I am a volunteer teacher in a professional training program, and one of my students has the unfortunate habit of slithering herself into my arms, caressing me, throwing herself upon me and hanging herself on my neck as we converse in order to make a point.
It's not a sexual advance, as far as I can tell, since we are both women, and she is happily married. It's just something she does, I assume, to people she feels affection for, and I find it immensely distasteful.
I have debated various ways of handling her advances, such as firmly and not very gently removing her arms, stepping way, way back, as I sense the moment about to occur, or just coming out and telling her that I am uncomfortable with her being so physically intimate with me. None of these seems exactly right. I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I need her to stop. Please help!
Whether or not your virtue is at stake, Miss Manners fears for your teaching career. And it isn't even the possibility of legal problems that could arise from harassment or favoritism issues that frighten her the most.
It is your lack of authority over a student who is clearly undermining your professional position by casting you as her intimate, and never mind the reason. Yet you find yourself so paralyzed that you cannot even pull away or offer the pitiful argument that you are "uncomfortable" with this, as if it were a failing of yours.
If it hurts her feelings to be told to stop this outrageous manipulation of your feelings, so be it. It is a valuable lesson, and you are there to teach.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c)2002, Judith Martin