Q: In the first few moments after my arrival at a college reunion, an old acquaintance came up to me with great enthusiasm, seized my hand and gave it a bone-crunching squeeze. It was so viselike that I had no power to squeeze back and thus defend myself.
My weakness was partly owing to a sprain in my index finger that occurred about three months earlier and which I had assumed was healed. To top everything off, I am a classical pianist who once played professionally and now does it for fun.
But the handshake did its worst, and I instantly worried I might never play again. The pain was such that I couldn’t help crying out, “You’ve crushed my finger! It was recovering from a sprain!” My old acquaintance drew back in horror, became contrite and apologized.
Realizing that I may have spoiled the moment, I tried to make up for it by smiling (while still wincing inwardly) and tossing off the comment, “Don’t worry. I’ll send you the medical bill,” then continuing with a bit of jovial small talk as if everything were back to normal.
But I feared things were not back to normal. In the weeks leading up to the event, this person had emailed me saying how much he looked forward to catching up. Within seconds of the encounter, he drifted off to other classmates, and our paths crossed only one more time when I reassured him that my finger was fine and I was just trying to razz him. But he drifted away once more.
I will say that after his severe handshake my finger still hasn’t re-healed. What, if anything, did I do wrong, and is there any way to redeem the situation?
Miss Manners hopes you recover fully and cannot blame you for reacting when your hand was crushed. Because your friend had no ill intention and apologized, your subsequent impulse to assure him that you will be fine was the right one.
Unfortunately, you have not convinced him. Whether or not you believe in your heart that you overreacted, you need to tell your friend that you did and apologize. This will be more convincing if you do not tell him that his greeting has ended your career as a pianist.
I’m a one-person operation and time is always short. I like to respond, but usually with just a quick, “Thanks for the note, glad you like it.”
This seems so insincere after reading a much more thought-out email. Most of the time I don’t respond at all. What is the etiquette?
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.