The only topic of conversation that my elderly parents and relatives really enjoy is their medical problems - not just a summary, but all the intimate details (e.g., toilet problems, ear cleaning, polyp removal), which can be disgusting at times, particularly at the dinner table.
I am sympathetic to these concerns, but if I try to change the subject to a non-medical topic, my parents and relatives become visibly annoyed with me.I understand that medical problems are scary and that talking about them can reduce the anxiety, but do we have to get into detail, particularly at the dinner table? What do you suggest?
GENTLE READER - That you come up with some topics of equal interest.
Miss Manners warns you that it isn't going to be easy to compete with the fascination of documenting one's own deterioration. But since you can't bark at your elders "That's not dinner-table conversation!" the way they used to at you, and since you don't want to seem unsympathetic, this is your only hope.
The unfortunate preoccupation you describe is, in people who are not actively suffering from medical problems, a sign of slackening interest in the future. While everybody else is curious about what is happening in the world and anxious about his or her own progress, these people feel they have no stake in it.
By bringing up events in the news so as to suggest that you would like opinions on it from their accumulated wisdom, and by mentioning events in your own life as if you were interested in receiving their guidance (the latter to be done carefully, with an unspoken lack of commitment to abide by advice and an avoidance of topics on which you are sensitive), you may be able to turn their attention outward. Miss Manners wishes you luck for their sake, even more than for yours.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - I plan to repeat my wedding vows on my 25th anniversary, but I am not sure how I should go about getting this done correctly.
Whom do I have in the wedding party? I have one child, a daughter. Do I have flower girls, ring bearer, maid of honor, bridesmaid and best man? Do I have someone give me away again to my husband?
GENTLE READER - The key to a tasteful renewal of wedding vows is to remember that you are celebrating 25 years of successful marriage, not impersonating your younger selves when you were just starting out.
You invite anyone who participated in your wedding, as well as your family and newer friends, but you certainly do not enlist a new set of bridal attendants. For a child to give a mother to her father, for example, is symbolically hilarious.
Nobody should give either one of you to the other. The point of the occasion, it seems to Miss Manners, is that you have belonged to each other for some time.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - Returning to my office early one afternoon, I was delayed by a funeral procession. I frequently study such processions for clues about the deceased.
This seemed to be for someone who was not very old. The mourners were in their 30s and 40s, and the cars were upscale. To my dismay, I noticed that several mourners were using their car phones. It has always seemed to me odd but unavoidable to juxtapose an ancient ritual on the everyday bustle of traffic, but the phenomenon of squeezing in a few business calls between the church and the cemetery truly offended my sensibilities. Am I being too stuffy?
GENTLE READER - Miss Manners would let slip the word "nosy," were she not afraid of the image of the stuffed nosy.
It is all very well for you to pass the time by speculating on the funerals of strangers, but Miss Manners will not join you in the sport of presuming evil of the mourners. How do you know those were business calls?
It is her belief that one mourner was calling home to alert someone there how many people would be coming back, another was saying, "Keep an eye on Aunt Emily, who seemed in bad shape at the service, and you know she has a weak heart," and so on.
1990 United Feature Syndicate Inc.