DEAR MISS MANNERS - We moved into this neighborhood six months ago. When the couple next door invited us for dinner, we were pleased to accept. The evening was not an unpleasant one. We stayed until nearly midnight, and the conversation ranged over a number of areas, either relating to the other couple and their doings, or a few topics of mutual interest.
But during the entire time we were in their home, neither my wife nor I was asked a single question about ourselves - not what we do for a living, how we've come to be in this city, our educational background, our children, etc. There were several openings during the course of the dinner for them to pick up on topics of this sort, but it simply did not happen.We are not angry so much as puzzled, Miss Manners. These folks are apparently in their own world and happy to be there.
But do we owe them an invitation? The idea would make us uncomfortable if such an evening were to be a repeat of the one described; we'd feel even more sensitive about subjecting a third (innocent!) couple to punishment of this sort. On the other hand, they are neighbors and we expect to live here for a while. Is there a gracious alternative that we don't see here?
GENTLE READER - Miss Manners could weep. She has spent so much energy in trying to persuade people not to ask prying questions, and here you are, having stayed up to midnight discussing topics of mutual interest with new people, complaining that they are self-centered for not having quizzed you.
It is possible that the last couple whose occupations and schools they asked about got huffy because they felt they were being investigated to see if they were important. And the one before that burst into tears upon being asked about their children, because they have been unable to have any.
This was a first-time get-together, after all. Polite people make general conversation before investigating one another's histories. Yet these people made a step toward closer acquaintanceship by volunteering information about themselves; surely you could have done that as well.
At least promise Miss Manners you will try. If they reply "Who cares?" and go on talking about themselves, she will concede that you were right and can confine your neighborliness to an occasional over-the-fence greeting.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - I'm being married for the second time in a small wedding at home. I ordered an off-white short dress, and I now find that one of the guests who works with me is also wearing an off-white dress. My friends and family feel it is not proper for a guest to wear the same color as the bride. I suggested this to her, and she said she looked better in that dress than in any other and she intended to wear it. But she said she would abide by your decision.
GENTLE READER - Oh, dear, it's not going to be that kind of decision. Your ever diplomatic Miss Manners is going to try to shame everyone concerned into being a bit less combative.
The rule is that the bride is the only person who wears white at a formal wedding. This does not mean that the bride gets dibs on any color she chooses, which is then off-limits to the guests.
Miss Manners gathers that what you are wearing is not some huge wedding gown; she also doubts that your guest is thinking of a bridal-type production for herself. And "off-white" can mean almost anything. Let us say that you are wearing a cream lace dress, and your friend wants to wear an eggshell silk suit. Surely that wouldn't create a visual conflict.
But you are on good social terms, or she wouldn't be coming to your wedding. So why aren't you saying, "I certainly wouldn't expect you to have to go out and buy something else," and why isn't she saying, "I certainly wouldn't want you to be unhappy"?
DEAR MISS MANNERS - Please say something to those who practice speech patterns that are tiring to us polite listeners.
Some say repeatedly, "Do you know what I mean?" or "Do you understand what I'm saying?" during conversation. This questions our capabilities, demanding assurances from us.
Some regularly preface statements with "What I want to say is . . ." or "Let me say this . . . ." This asks great patience of us who are more direct in communicating. I have a friend who even says "Wait a minute!" followed by a pregnant pause and accompanied by grand hand gestures, before she comments. Now this is surely a case of expecting too much.
GENTLE READER - Of what? Oh. Please forgive Miss Manners; she drifted off for a minute. To check that you are not doing the same, your friends use certain phrases, thus making sure they have a firm hold on your attention.
Admittedly, repeated phrases are annoying. But since you cannot politely point that out to your acquaintances who use them, Miss Manners suggests that you develop a strong "Ummmmm" to show them that they need not resort to such measures to get your attention.
C) 1989 United Feature Syndicate Inc.