Dear Miss Manners:
A relative of mine will soon be moving to Europe. She is unhappily anticipating all kinds of disparaging questions about American politics, having had these unpleasant exchanges when she lived in Europe before.
The questions typically run along the lines of "How can Americans vote for that candidate?" or "How can they support such a policy?" -- yet are delivered in such a way as to imply that Americans are stupid or naive.
We were hoping you could suggest a way to respond to unkind opinions masquerading as curiosity that would neither indicate that she agrees with the opinions nor open the subject to an unpleasant disagreement about politics.
Your relative should be studying the politics of the country in which she will be living. This is not only a responsible thing to do, but it will give her the information to make delicate inquiries about the state of her hosts' satisfaction with their own politicians.
Miss Manners has yet to find a country where everyone is fully satisfied with the leaders, no matter how much electoral support these people received. A few polite and neutrally worded questions about the host country's issues of the day should turn the conversation from country against country to the universal harmony of citizens complaining about their own politicians.
Dear Miss Manners:
In the hospital that I work in, many of the patients and their families are not fluent in English. We use interpreters or ask various staff members to interpret for us.
My question is about eye contact. In a recent scenario, the doctor only looked at the nurse (who was also the interpreter), both while the doctor told the nurse what to interpret and while the nurse was interpreting to the patient's mother. I thought that the doctor was being rude to the mother by not looking at the mother at all during the exchanges.
Who are we supposed to look at when we are speaking to the interpreter: the interpreter or the patient/parent? When the interpreter is speaking to the patient/parent, do we look at the interpreter or the patient/parent?
The doctor made the intuitive choice, which is to look at the person who is in the physical act of speaking. It is the wrong choice, as you point out, but the right choice is a complicated one.
Miss Manners agrees that the doctor should be looking at the parent, because it is the parent with whom the doctor is having the conversation, however indirectly. But it is also rude to talk about someone, even a child, without acknowledging that person's presence, and to accept the services of an interpreter without acknowledging that person's presence.
Doing all this, and eyeing the medical records as well, is a skill that has to be learned. You might suggest at a staff meeting that this is one of the skills needed in a hospital that serves patients who do not speak English.
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) 2005, Judith Martin