DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a freelance writer who has had articles published in several magazines. I just received a mass e-mail (a mass forwarding, I think) from an editor to whom I have sold material on three separate occasions.
This e-mail was a lengthy and nasty criticism of a prominent political candidate, related neither to any work I had done for this editor, nor to the magazine’s general publishing mission.
Although I was not entirely unsympathetic with all the political views expressed in the message, there were some I strongly disagreed with; and in any case, I was annoyed that a professional editor would use my being on her e-mail list as an excuse to hit me with something totally irrelevant to our working relationship. (At least I hope it was irrelevant. If this is her way of ferreting out and dropping any regular writers who disagree with her political opinions, I quit!)
Besides, I am long fed up with the “badmouth your opponent” approach that dominates political campaigns.
Rather than risk saying anything that might hurt my own professional reputation, I simply deleted the message without answering it. I wonder, though, if there was any possible way I could have replied that would have tactfully discouraged anything more of this kind?
GENTLE READER: “I’m afraid I must have gotten onto the wrong e-mail list” is a perfectly reasonable response to unwanted e-mails, particularly mass forwarded ones. Miss Manners notes that you wouldn’t mind being dropped by this editor for political differences (which would be highly unethical on her part anyway), so you have little to lose.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: If I am a guest speaker at a luncheon, is it unprofessional of me to eat any of the food?
GENTLE READER: While you are speaking, yes.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a single woman in my late 30s with friends who have preschool and school-age children. Many parents have instructed their children to address me by my first name. I do not feel comfortable with this, as I am friends with the parents and not their children.
May I ask the parents to instruct their children to call me something else, such as Miss Smith or “Auntie” Barbara?
GENTLE READER: More often than not, it is the parents’ friends who ask to be called by their first names so as not to “appear old,” a clear signal to the children that they are.
Miss Manners assures you that it is just as permissible, and a lot more dignified, to make the opposite request.
One makeshift solution is to use an honorific followed by the first name, such as “Miss Barbara” or “Aunt Barbara,” but this may feel odd for those born above the Mason-Dixon line. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to be called Aunt Laura” would be a sweet way to solve the problem. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to be called Miss Smith” is a little less so, but would achieve the desired result.