Q: Our office’s self-appointed social organizer has sent her usual Halloween notice that we’re “encouraged” to come to work dressed up in our choice of scary attire.
Now, I do respect others who wish to participate. But for various reasons, not the least of which is that I have moral and religious objections to the mass craziness that is Halloween, I wish not to participate — in as gracious and respectful a manner as possible, without offending or appearing standoffish.
Our office includes a mere dozen people, so it’s hard to not be noticed. Kindly teach me how to graciously abstain without offending the easily offendable. I don’t wish to stay away from work, either, as I am paid by hours worked.
A: Unless your job is teaching nursery school, Miss Manners offers you her sympathy. She does not approve of compulsory shenanigans in the workplace.
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She suggests that you go dressed normally and reply to any accusations with the pathetic plea: “But I thought I was scary enough already. Do you mean to say that I don’t frighten you? Oh, dear.” And just to show your good will — and to divert the complaint — you might bring some candy to offer your colleagues.
Q: I am a woman with a gender-neutral first name, working in a predominantly male profession. In applying for jobs, I notice that the responses I get are sometimes addressed to “Mr.”
Is there a way I can politely indicate that I am a woman to the people in HR before I show up at an interview? I just don’t want any confusion or embarrassment when I meet them.
Conversely, I was thinking about being in their shoes, and I really don’t know the best way to address a letter to a person like me. How does one address a letter to someone when you can’t tell their gender by their name?
A: You should become adept at supplying any available clues — for example, using your full name, “Patricia,” in formal business correspondence even though everyone knows you as “Pat”; including your middle name if it is more gender-specific; and putting “Ms.” in parentheses before your signature.
If that doesn’t do it, Miss Manners would leave HR to guess and be ready with an apology if they guessed wrong.
Q: Is it rude for my fiancee’s daughter to give me a birthday list of very expensive items when I never once asked her what she wanted? She is always asking me for things I cannot afford, and I do not know the appropriate responses to her requests. It’s gotten to the point that I do not enjoy her company.
A: In the interest of heading off the tendency of even angelic children to exploit parental differences, Miss Manners recommends a conversation with your fiancee. She should put a stop to her daughter’s behavior on her own authority, leaving you the otherwise-pleasant task of making friends with your soon-to-be stepdaughter.
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.