Advice Columns

Miss Manners: Return to sender a direct response to offensive web posts

Q: Occasionally a relative or acquaintance forwards blog posts or other web postings that I consider to be offensive.

When people say things of that sort in person, I always respond because I believe that silence indicates acquiescence. But forwarded messages seem different, and I think the wisest course is to ignore them.

Nonetheless, I don’t want the people who send them to think that I welcome these or share their views. Is there a better response than silence?

A: Silence may still be taken as acquiescence. But there are an unlimited number of things that one can be offended by, and too little societal agreement on the severity of different offenses.

Taking offense therefore requires the two qualities that the offender is being accused of lacking: judgment and tact. According to Miss Manners, the important differences between the forwarded blog post and the unfortunate remark made at dinner are, first, the possibility that the sender may not mean to endorse everything being forwarded, and second, the ability to respond to the sender without involving the other recipients.

If the offense is severe enough to merit — or require — a response, it is still possible to communicate only with the sender. And it is both more polite and more effective if you can phrase your response so as to allow the original sender the possibility that he did not mean to endorse something hateful.

Q: We have dinner guests about two times a month. What should I say when one or more of my guests gets up and begins to clear the dishes while I am not even half finished with my dinner?

Surely that person is trying to help, and I do not want to embarrass or admonish my guest. “Please be seated until everyone is finished with their dinner” just does not sound right. Does Miss Manners have a solution?

A: She does. In fact, she has several. First, ask your guest please not to trouble herself; you will take care of that. The words suggest that you are being gracious, but the tone must be serious enough to ensure you are taken seriously.

When your would-be helper pauses to consider, turn to another guest who is still eating and apologize: “I’m so sorry. I didn’t notice you were still eating.” This should settle any dispute. But if it does not, offer seconds.

Q: What is your opinion on the appropriateness of cruise ship guests who continue to wear formal wear to the main dining room when the cruise line’s dress code only requires designer jeans and button-down shirts for men? I think ladies in long gowns in such circumstances to be similar to guests wearing white dresses to weddings!

A: How so? The rationale for wedding guests not wearing white is that they might be mistaken for the bride, or, less charitably, that they might outshine her.

Miss Manners doubts that passengers pack evening clothes with the hope of making other passengers look shabby. Rather, they are channeling the glamorous old days of ships, when evening clothes were the rule. Nowadays, there are few opportunities to dress up.

So let them enjoy it. If you feel outdone, you may bring dressy clothes of your own.

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.

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