DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an avid walker. I start my day with a walk fast enough to work my muscles and increase my heart rate.
I walk the streets in my neighborhood and frequently see neighbors out walking or strolling with their dogs. I acknowledge them with a friendly “Good morning,” but don’t slow or attempt to engage them in further conversation.
On occasion, folks will want to stop and visit, and while I’m very social and appreciative of their desire to be friendly, I don’t want to break my routine or allow my pulse to slow.
Can I graciously disengage and keep moving without appearing to be rude or aloof?
GENTLE READER: You can graciously disengage yourself in any number of ways, from the “I’m sorry, but I really have to go” to the “I think I hear my mother calling.”
But all of these options require time. What you really want is a method for not stopping, for which Miss Manners recommends acquiring a mental mindset of yourself as a ship that requires miles to stop: Wave and smile as momentum carries you out of range of your talkative neighbor.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have dozens of elderly clients, and many of them tell me, in detail, about their medical adventures. How do I politely shut someone down when they get into very graphic descriptions of illness and surgeries that, frankly, make my stomach churn?
I have respect for my elders and believe they deserve an ear, but it goes way too far when they share details concerning blood, pus, vomit and feces. Help!
GENTLE READER: “That sounds like information for your doctor, not me” would be better than “Ew!!!”
Nothing, however, will outperform the basic social skill of knowing how to change the subject gracefully: “Is there anything I can help you with?” Miss Manners trusts that they will understand that you cannot help them with their medical misfortunes.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our main weekend activity is dinner parties: informal, in someone’s home, kids included. We have a large circle of friends who all entertain and like to be entertained this way.
Invitations are usually sent by text message. Let’s say we issue an invitation on a Sunday for the following weekend. If that invitation is declined, we’ll invite someone else.
But what if I don’t hear back at all? I often receive an invitation from someone else before my own prospective guest has responded one way or another. And then I’m the person causing uncertainty in someone’s weekend.
At what point am I free to assume my prospective guests are unavailable, and make other plans?
GENTLE READER: With a one-week invitation, half a week is more than enough time for a reasonable person to respond. If, after that time, no response has been given, Miss Manners suggests a follow-up that politely makes up their mind for them: “So sorry you can’t make it this weekend. Let’s reschedule.”
If you think this will prompt a protest from the other end, you are free — but not required — to add a few hours between sending the above and accepting a conflicting invitation yourself.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, [email protected]; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.