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Miss Manners: Responses to 'How are you?' when you're anything but fine
MISS MANNERS

Miss Manners: Responses to 'How are you?' when you're anything but fine

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Dear Miss Manners • I have been diagnosed with a fatal, incurable cancer. Most co-workers are aware of my condition, but they still routinely ask “How are you?” when I come to the office.

I resist saying “I’m fine,” because it is untrue and insincere. “I’m dying from incurable cancer” is also not an answer of which I see Miss Manners approving.

So I have these two dodges: “If you allow me a healthy margin for denial, I’m doing fine,” or “I have no new complaints.”

I have to say that I gave a different, snarky answer to the team of doctors who assembled to discuss my case and asked the same question: “How are you doing?” In response, I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could assemble a team of highly educated, experienced medical professionals and get them to answer that question?” (This response was met with well-deserved icy stares.)

As a devoted reader, I have learned that Miss Manners doesn’t think you should make people feel bad if you can avoid it. So I offer my two solutions to those with the same predicament and hope Miss Manners approves.

Gentle Reader • “The best that can be expected under the circumstances,” with a wan smile, should suffice, as it pacifies the audience without exaggerating the truth.

But yes, you are correct on both accounts. Those demanding “How are you?” are usually just being polite and generally not interested in more than a utilitarian reply. Miss Manners sees the fatigue in answering it constantly and without truth.

However, if it is the inquirers’ job to monitor the outcome — as it is with doctors — they are not after pleasantries. You may treat the question as a clinical one with no need to censor it for the squeamish.

Dear Miss Manners • My husband says he is very concerned with good table manners, and constantly harasses my 8-year-old grandsons on the subject.

Despite his “no electronics at the table” rule, he plays videos for them — at the table — about good manners. In addition, as a result of the videos, they have noticed that he exhibits some “bad” manners of his own.

He fills his plate and begins to eat before I am able to fill mine and sit down. He refuses to talk to me unless I ask specific questions, to which he answers in one or two words. He eats very quickly, and when he is finished, he gets up, clears his plate and heads into the living room before the boys or I have finished. He will not tell me if he enjoyed the food unless I specifically ask, and then it’s usually a one- or two-word answer.

Should I make him aware of these lapses, or let my grandsons tell him?

Gentle Reader • It will be less painful if you do it:

“You’re so good at telling Devon and Damon about proper manners, and it would be wonderful if they could learn by your example as well. But I am afraid that they’ll think it OK to start and finish before everyone else, and not to make conversation. It would be a shame to undo all of the good lessons that you — and YouTube — have taught them.”

Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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