Q: My husband and I have a house in Maine. Our visitors from out of town always look forward to being served lobster at our table.
I don’t like lobster. I’m happy to serve it to our guests and my husband. If I offer an alternative, I will probably be the only one eating that.
What is the polite alternative to choking my way through a lobster at my own table?
A: You have been caught by what Miss Manners calls the Local Delicacy Trap, shared by Bostonians who hate clam chowder, Napa Valley natives who have other things to do than to taste wine, and Chicagoans who have had to consume a lifetime and a half of deep-dish pizza.
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Not only does everyone coming to town expect it, but they lack any sympathy for you, who are glutted, whether on lobster or champagne or baked beans.
Misdirection (“Oh, that’s not the real local delicacy! The real local delicacy is steamed mussels!”) seldom satisfies. Portion control (“This caviar is particularly special. And for the main course we have …”) makes you look stingy.
Best to swallow the insult to your own tastes, which can be done without swallowing the lobster. Who can complain about a dinner of lobster and an alternative, in which everyone gets to eat what he or she enjoys most?
Q: An employee my office just hired was nice enough to start with, but very quickly I began to notice that she was oversharing personal information about herself and her family.
I would just brush it off and change the subject, but then she began to include me in her problems. If she complained about her weight, she’d say I must feel the same way about myself. If she complained about her age, she’d say I must feel the same way, too.
If she wants to degrade herself, that’s her problem, but I do not want to be included. I’ve tried being cordial and keeping my distance, but today I found out that she’s complaining to others in the office that I’m not friendly to her. They tell me she has been asking them what my problem is!
Help! I wouldn’t want my problems blabbed all over the workplace, but I don’t want her complaining about me, either. My life isn’t perfect, but I don’t put myself down. How can I get her to stop?
A: The way to prevent her from telling others about your problems is, as you correctly surmised, not to tell them to her. Perhaps looking sympathetic and saying, “No, not really,” when she turns to you, would help. This unsatisfactory but polite response should solve the problem of her oversharing.
That leaves only one problem for Miss Manners to solve: how to get her to stop complaining about you. The next time someone passes on one of her complaints, explain that she seems nice, but you hardly know her and don’t feel that you can deal adequately with her neediness.
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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