The Washington Post

Miss Manners: When it comes to greeting friends, only do no harm

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am 12 years of age and have just read about the etiquette of handshakes.

A great number of my peers feel that it is appropriate in normal social situations to disgrace the sanctity of the handshake with any number of gestures, from the mildly annoying to the downright offensive. Also, when I present a hand to be shaken, it will be met with anything from a fist to “bump” to curled fingers to “splow.”

I am not alone in this fight, as my friends share the same complaints. How do I express my opinion on the correct way to greet one of your peers and the rudeness of these alternate gestures?

GENTLE READER: Keep reading. You will be disappointed to find that it is extremely bad manners to go around teaching etiquette, unasked, to people who are minding their own business.

Yes, Miss Manners understands how frustrating it is not to be able to annoy others with your newfound knowledge. Even she is bound by this rule, and only instructs when asked.

Besides, while the handshake is the standard dignified greeting, there is a whole other vocabulary for different situations. Your parents probably do not shake hands when they greet each other, and you might not care to have your future admirers do so. Among schoolmates, informal, faddish, well-meant salutations that do no physical damage should not be condemned.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When people make self-deprecating remarks that are not entirely untrue, how should one respond?

For example, I have a very slim friend who says, “I’m so fat, I need to work out.” I know she is just looking for reassurance, and so I oblige with, “No, you look so thin.”

However, I have been in the situation where an acquaintance or co-worker who is easily carrying an extra 100 pounds on their frame says it, and I do not know what to say. Agreeing with their self-insult seems hurtful, but disagreeing seems awkward, too.

GENTLE READER: You were not asked to vote, as Miss Manners understands it. You need only say something neutral, such as, “Oh, shouldn’t we all?”

But even if this silly fishing expedition is cast as a direct question (”Do you think I’m overweight?”), you needn’t take the bait. “Why?” you could ask in a surprised tone. “Is that what your doctor says?”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I wonder if we need to send written thank-you cards to the people who brought a gift of $25 or less to my husband’s surprise 60th birthday party.

GENTLE READER: You folks ever hear of “It’s the thought that counts”?

No, Miss Manners thought not. In the time you spent figuring out what each present cost, you could have written gracious notes to everyone who was generous enough to give anything at all.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS



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