DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a political appointee. At a dinner party recently where I was a guest, one of the other guests asked about a controversial policy issue relevant to my agency.
I attempted to answer factually, but this seemed to inflame the guest further (she had had quite a lot to drink already), and ended with her insisting that I was fabricating information and delivering propaganda. After the event, the other guests told me that they were appalled by her behavior.
What should one do in that circumstance, when the dinner party conversation is overtaken by a belligerent boor who accuses another guest of lying? Should the recipient of the insult have any particular response?
GENTLE READER: You didn’t get much help there, did you? Apparently the hosts said nothing, and the guests only sympathized from a safe distance when it was over.
Miss Manners guesses that everyone was afraid to invoke the etiquette rule against discussing politics, religion or sex at social functions (except among people who are known to be in agreement or unfailingly polite). They know that someone is bound to ask witheringly, “Well, what are we supposed to talk about? The weather?”
No. Too controversial. Climate change is only too likely to provoke an emotional argument.
As the host did not say, “This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion,” and the other guests did not quickly begin another topic, you should have done so.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: In a college class this past semester, two or three of my classmates complained directly to the instructor about my smelly socks (because in class, I often remove my shoes to feel more relaxed).
While they had every right to file that complaint, should they not have politely asked me first to either sit far away from them or put my shoes on? (I eventually dropped the class for various reasons.) I honestly doubt that I look like a mean or scary guy, and if I react angrily to their polite and reasonable request, they have every right to either call campus police or tell the instructor.
A few years ago, a young woman sitting near me (in a different class) discreetly asked me to wear my shoes; I immediately complied, and sat far away from the rest of that class from that day on — and heard no more complaints about my socks.
Besides, I haven’t heard any similar complaints in my other college classes, and I have completed dozens and dozens of them (most of them were in real, not virtual, classrooms).
GENTLE READER: And what were the lessons to be learned from all this? Miss Manners is afraid that you were not paying attention.
The first lesson is that people find public shoelessness offensive. Not everyone, perhaps, but enough for you to realize that it is not safe to assume that no one will.
The second lesson is that polite people are understandably reluctant to offer criticism. They therefore prefer to complain through those who have the authority to correct the problem.
For extra credit, you might try finding comfortable shoes and washing your socks.