DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a veteran with 23 years of service, and I’m uncomfortable with the traditional “Happy Memorial Day” greeting that the news and entertainment media have foisted upon the public. However, I do not know what is actually acceptable to use in its place. Are there better forms of greetings for more somber occasions?
GENTLE READER: While it is true that such constructions are used as greetings, you will notice that they are actually good wishes. So Miss Manners agrees that they seem jarring on somber occasions.
For example, one would not wish anyone a happy Yom Kippur; the proper wish is for an easy fast. But in common with “Merry Christmas,” that is a kindly hope on behalf of another — comfort in the former case, and enjoyment in the latter.
How would you wish people to feel on Memorial Day? Respectful, presumably, and perhaps contemplative. But to instruct them to do so would be impertinent. You wouldn’t be wishing them well, but ordering them to behave properly, which is not only rudely intrusive but insulting, as it implies that they are not already doing so.
So the only passably fitting use of “Happy Memorial Day” would be to encourage shopkeepers who use it to advertise sales.
Two cautionary notes:
(1) It is unnecessary, and sometimes unwise, to issue holiday-specific wishes to people whose circumstances you do not know. People who do this mean to spread cheer, but that is not the result of, for example, calling out “Happy Father’s Day!” to someone whose child is deceased.
(2) Nevertheless, it is also a mistake to take conventional expressions at their surface value. Miss Manners supported you on the Memorial Day matter, but please do not press her about every such remark. It is really tedious when people complain that everyone who says “How do you do?” doesn’t want a medical report, and those who begin letters with “Dear” do not hold them particularly dear.
He’s our son, not our grandson
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I adopted a wonderful little boy from Russia when he was almost 4 years old; my husband was 46 and I was 42. Since we returned home, we have experienced several occasions where strangers assume our son is our grandson, making comments such as, “You must be proud of your grandson,” or “How old is your grandson?”
Whenever we reply along the lines of, “Well, he’s actually our son,” the other person generally looks flustered and moves on.
Is there a polite way to correct their false assumption without making them feel bad? At first these comments bothered me, but now I take them in stride and try to just appreciate people noticing my wonderful son.
GENTLE READER: If you can really do that, there is no need to correct the nosy assumptions made by strangers. What does it matter what they think?
However, you could consider that it would be doing such people a favor by saving them from future embarrassment. Miss Manners suggests, “Actually, he is really too young to give us grandchildren yet, but we hope he will someday.”
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.
© Universal Uclick 5/22