Dear Miss Manners:
I need a better way to handle anger!
First, a young relative, a new driver, backed his car into mine. I never doubted his parents would pay for the damage. Nevertheless I was irritated, I think forgivably.
Another relative, observing my crossness, admonished me to focus on the poor driver's feelings. Now I love this kid, and I know he was sorry. But -- my car!
Another incident occurred just before a dinner party, when the host's large, unruly dog climbed onto the dining table while the party was elsewhere and devoured a cake I had brought. The host's reaction, after ineffectually "banishing" the dog, was to imply that I should have known better and, when I didn't instantly snap out of my bad humor (my cake!), to blithely ask how he could "cheer me up." Grrr.
Miss Manners, in neither case did I explode or make a scene. These were obviously accidents, though careless ones, and in the case of the cake, clearly preventable (one would think).
But what was I to do? I couldn't leave, which would have looked like stomping off. At the same time, I couldn't cheerily assure everyone that what happened was "okay." It wasn't!
Was I wrong to be quietly but visibly out of sorts? I'm not a pouter by nature, and I did eventually perk up, as commanded. But some uncomfortable minutes -- for everyone -- were endured in the interval.
Just a minute -- before Miss Manners answers your question, she wants to look for cover. Grrr, and all that.
This is because your clumsy relatives and friends are right. Not about destroying your property, but about attempting to dispel the natural result.
The correct thing for you to have done would have been to rush up to your nephew and cry, "Darling, are you all right? Oh, don't worry about the car. It can be fixed. I was just worried about you." (The last sentence is supposed to account for the look of anguish on your face as you watched your car crumple.)
In the case of the dog, you could have toned it down somewhat. "Is he going to be all right?" you should have asked the owner. "I don't think it's good for dogs to eat sweets."
Naturally, these responses outrage every fiber of your being. That's because they are civilized. The damage is done, and there is no use making others feel worse than we hope they already do.
Miss Manners does not minimize the amount of self-control it takes to look on with equanimity while one's property is demolished. It takes practice. But it sounds as if the circles in which you move are prepared to offer you that.
Dear Miss Manners:
We have been invited to a dinner party and I know they are serving pork ribs. My husband does not like pork or beef. Do I tell the hostess to avoid embarrassing him or not? If he is not eating them, she will want to know why.
No, not why he doesn't like pork ribs. Miss Manners can think of a multitude of reasons, and is not wildly excited to know which happen to be his.
Her question is why the hostess will want to know, or why you are so sure that she will ask. It is rude to monitor what the guests are eating. But you are probably right, people do that.
So the question is why your husband need be embarrassed, and the answer is that he needn't. If asked, he should reply, "Thanks, I'll skip them, but would you pass that delicious salad, please?"
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) 2004, Judith Martin