Q: I have been in politics professionally for more than 30 years. I also shoot trap and skeet recreationally. Friends and extended family often ask my opinions on any number of political issues, including gun control.
You probably know that means they want to inform me of their opinions, which I already know and about which I do not need any more information. In some cases there are issues I cannot discuss.
For the past few years I have been responding that I prefer not to discuss politics. It has been effective, but I feel I’m being pompous and rude. Any suggestions?
A: As great a believer as Miss Manners is in deflecting nosy questions and avoiding explosive topics, she is astounded at the idea of a professional politician declaring that he will not discuss politics.
You do not say whether you are an office-holder or a strategist, but in either case you insult members of the public by refusing to talk about political issues.
Yet you already hold the key to a response that is not just polite, but flattering. That is your realization that people want you to listen to them.
Yes, they probably just want to vent. But another name for that is making their views known to someone in a position to make, or at least influence, policy. However much you think you have heard everything they might have to say, it is arrogant and politically dangerous to assume you can dismiss their feedback.
That is not to say that you have to engage in an argument about gun control or other issues. But you do have to hear people out, thank them for their views, and tell them that you are thinking about their point of view, even though you differ with them.
Q: How and when is the polite way to ask someone’s race or country of origin?
I understand that doing so immediately upon being introduced makes people uncomfortable. But later in conversation, when it’s typical to ask get-to-know-you questions like, “What do you do for a living?” how can I politely ask, “Where are you from?” or more likely, “Where are your parents from?”
If they seem to be mixed race, how can I ask which? If they have an accent, how can I ask what it is, in a way they’ll like?
I really appreciate it when people offer this info so I don’t have to ask, but what if they don’t? Please suggest a conversation starter!
A: You could start by giving your own provenance and then allowing others a chance to chime in with theirs.
But Miss Manners cautions you to end with this, as well, unless your interlocutor responds in kind. Some people like to discuss their backgrounds, but others feel as if they are being appraised or are just plain weary of explaining themselves.
Q: How do you politely tell someone they talk much too much and should just shut up?
A: “Thank you; I enjoyed hearing this. Now if you’ll excuse me …”
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.