Q: I work at a government agency with an information phone line that I will periodically answer. Sometimes people expect me to give them my name, which I am not comfortable doing. Other than giving a fake name, is there a good way to say to the caller that I will not disclose my name?
A: Why? Are you not prepared to be accountable for the information you are giving them? Miss Manners is confused by your reluctance, or that of any employer who sets such a policy.
You can hardly blame these people, who have likely been put endlessly on hold, for wanting to have a name, or at least a unique code name, associated with the person giving them information. Often they are cut off or must give proof of their source.
Miss Manners defends the right to privacy in personal situations, but advocates transparency in business. Surely a government agency has nothing to hide.
Q: I love Chinese food but have never mastered chopsticks, despite repeated efforts. Whenever I’m dining with friends who are eating with chopsticks, they repeatedly make fun of me for using a fork, making unsuccessful attempts to teach me how to use them.
I was not born in a culture that uses chopsticks, so why is it so necessary that I should master them? My friends always like to demonstrate their skills, but is it improper of me not to use them, or not even try any longer? I don’t understand why I must be made to feel awkward for eating it without chopsticks.
A: It appears to Miss Manners that your friends are more interested in showing off their acquired skills than teaching them to you. That you would rather not mangle another culture’s practices is not a crime against etiquette.
In fact, there are many examples when adapting another culture’s practices is actually incorrect if you are not a native. Bowing to royalty if you are American, for example. Other times, the attempt is appreciated, but context is always important.
If you want to curb the lessons and put off criticism, say, “I would love to learn from you about Chinese customs, but now we’re all hungry, and I don’t want to embarrass myself. You’ll have to forgive me if I choose to use a fork instead.”
If it makes you feel any better, the restaurant owners are unlikely to care about your friends’ supposed skills and may be laughing heartily at their prowess.
Q: Should one attend the funeral service of the parent of a good friend and neighbor if one has never met the deceased?
A: There are two reasons for attending a funeral: Showing respect for the deceased and supporting the bereaved. Although these often overlap, Miss Manners considers that either one should be sufficient motivation for going.
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.