Dear Miss Manners: I felt compelled to apologize to a friend for a careless remark I made at a dinner party because, although it was of a general nature, on reflection I think it might have caused offense. I composed a sincere apology and sent it by email. She replied by saying she didn’t recall anything that was offensive and jokingly asked what had I said.
Should I have politely said, “Let’s just leave it in the past,” and left her wondering? Or am I now worse off for having offered up my stupid statement again, but with fewer words? Our conversation ended amicably, but I am not sure I handled it well.
Gentle Reader: Your friend certainly handled it well. Even her little joke offered you the opportunity to edit your remark, or to add, “… but what I meant was” and then declare the opposite of what you said.
You missed doing that, but Miss Manners would not have advised you to leave your friend guessing. You wouldn’t want to challenge her to find something that can be interpreted as rude.
Offer a sensitive explanation
Dear Miss Manners: My 4-year-old is beginning to observe other people when we are out in public and, on occasion, she will ask me about someone who is of a different race, or has their hair dyed pink, a nose ring, a turban, is disabled, very tall, etc.
She’s not referring to these people in a derogatory way by any means, but is curious about their differences.
I tell her that people come in all different shapes, shades and sizes, and that’s what makes the world so interesting. Or I say, “Yes, she does have pink hair – isn’t that pretty!” and then change the subject.
But sometimes she asks me about someone within hearing distance of that person. Do I need to say anything to these people? Apologizing for my daughter’s inquiries doesn’t seem exactly right, since my daughter is not doing anything wrong, but is merely doing what curious 4-year-olds do. (I do, however, reprimand her if she points at people.)
What should I do while we trudge through this “Why? Why? Why?” stage?
Gentle Reader: Ah, childhood – when we begin to master the finer points of tact, acceptance and discretion. And so do our children.
If the child is not directly addressing the person in question, there is no need for you to do so. Simple, respectful explanations – as you have been giving – are all that is required, perhaps at a slightly raised volume so that there is no question as to content. Miss Manners assures you that people with “differences” have heard it all, but they – as well as those around them – will likely be as interested as your child to hear a sensitive explanation.
This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s daughter, Jacobina Martin.