Advice Columns

Miss Manners: The trick to saying no to costumes at the office

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.

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,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.