Q: My husband and I are each psychologists. Not infrequently, when new people meet us for the first time in social settings, they say something along the lines of, “Whoa, I better be careful around you … are you analyzing me?”
We are not the ones who initiate this career talk. I typically try to put them at ease by a lighthearted comment along the lines of, “Oh don’t worry, thankfully I’m off the clock right now.”
We don’t like the feeling of being put on the defensive so soon into a new encounter, nor the assumptions it makes about an intrusive — rather than a helpful — intention in our professional work. And so we would appreciate any suggestions about how to approach these comments that seem to stifle, rather than open, a friendly dialogue with new people.
A: Oh, the many times that Miss Manners’ own enthusiasm for new acquaintances has been deflated by their saying that they had better “watch their manners” in front of her, rather than engage in actual conversation.
In her case, these tedious quips miss the point entirely: that the biggest breach of etiquette would be to point out bad manners at a social occasion. Just as you would never analyze and assess someone without a formal agreement, Miss Manners saves her behavioral critiques for when she is asked politely in writing.
She encourages you to continue as you have, perhaps adding — as she has — that you wouldn’t dream of conflating professional assessments with social conversation. You might accompany this reply with a progressively weaker smile if the tactic is pursued.
Unfortunately, every profession is burdened with similar awkward exchanges and demands (doctors are asked medical advice, actors are called upon to act). So on all of our behalves, Miss Manners heartily thanks you for the opportunity to express the limited charm of such remarks.
Q: We were just invited, one week before the event, via social media, with no details, to our niece’s 3-month-old son’s baptism.
We were never contacted about the birth, but saw on social media that she had a son. No other details have been provided, and we never received even so much as a telephone call from her or her parents.
What gift, if any, is appropriate? We are always excited about a new baby no matter what the circumstance, but we are in a bit of a quandary. And, do we reply by social media?
A: You may, but Miss Manners would advise you to contact the parents or the new mother herself to send your best wishes. At that time, you can ask if there is anything the new parents might need, although a present is optional.
Even if you feel affronted — as well you might — any real future communication will clearly have to be initiated by you. In this age where communication is universal, but not personal, it is up to the polite few to model good behavior and forge actual connections. Particularly if you want to meet this baby before he is able to send the social media notices himself.
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.