I desperately need to know how to deal at holiday gatherings with one family whom I shall call The Materialistics.
The moment their children embark from the car, they can hardly wait to tell us how much money they have and what they have recently bought. Then they begin asking such questions as "How much money do you have?" and "What did you pay for that?"These are not young children, mind you.
During the last visit, the son asked our daughter how much rent she pays for her apartment. She was so caught off guard that she told him. His reply: "What a rip-off!"
It never occurs to Mr. and Mrs. Materialistic to correct their children; in fact, they ask such pointed questions as "How much insurance do you carry on your home?" and "What percentage of the market does your employer control?"
Of course they never volunteer such information about themselves.
The Materialistics do not respond well to politely vague replies, but only consider them a green light to dig deeper. If we say, "Oh, I really don't know," they act surprised at our ignorance.
Since they are family, we want to enjoy their visits, but we dread them. Each visit leaves our family emotionally drained.
Any hints on how to deal lovingly with such people?
GENTLE READER - One of Miss Manners' basic techniques for the preservation of family life is for common victims to share secret amusement over the distasteful practices of their relatives.
Thus, the most important time to deal with these people is after they have left. Rather than lying around emotionally drained, you should be merrily exchanging stories - "He told me he bought a state-of-the-art paper shredder!" "Yes - well, she asked me how much I'd paid for my umbrella!"
As for avoiding interrogation at the time, you might try some playful teasing: "Oh, Sean, you're amazing! Do you remember all these figures? Last year I told you how much I paid for my shoes - do you remember how much they were?"
DEAR MISS MANNERS - I enjoy needlework and often take a piece of work to the meetings I attend. Some people feel that this is rude to the speaker and/or the participants in the program. I can participate and concentrate while I work. I do not wish to offend anyone, but this time allows me to accomplish a great deal on the current project.
GENTLE READER - Every time Miss Manners declares some such small practice acceptable, she hears reports of this license being abused. So she is wary about this.
Doing a bit of needlework was traditionally a lady's prerogative, it being understood that in addition to signaling an industrious spirit, this work did not distract from the activities of talking, thinking or listening. Indeed, there are those who claim it enhances them by depriving the worker of other distractions.
Miss Manners would have no trouble continuing to condone this, and extending the privilege to gentlemen as well, if she did not fear hearing that someone will then ask the speaker to fetch the dropped ball of wool, and someone else has set up a knitting machine in a lecture hall.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - When young people write thank-you notes to us, they invariably omit the salutation "dear," simply writing "Jean" if the note is addressed to me, or "Dean and Jean" to my husband and me. This is not an occasional occurrence - it happens all the time. What is it all about? I was taught that "Dear" preceding the name was correct.
GENTLE READER - Of course this is correct, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, for two reasons.
1. They would be wrong. Miss Manners is, as always, right.
2. They would probably give you some tiresome argument - such as that they do not, in literal fact, hold you dear - for removing the pitifully few remaining graces from everyday life.
However crotchety this practice makes Miss Manners, she notices that the young persons you favor actually write you thank-you letters, and duly notes her gratitude for that.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - If my teacher has different-colored socks, should I tell her or just ignore it?
GENTLE READER - Miss Manners does not generally have the annoying habit of answering a question with a question, even an essay question. But she gently suggests that your answer is to be found in considering what, should you call the mismatched socks to your teacher's attention during school, she could possibly do about them.
Judith Martin's "Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children" (Atheneum) is now available for etiquette emergency consultation.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions other than through this column.