Dear Miss Manners: Since the birth of my daughter five years ago, I have become aware of a tendency in adults, especially older adults, to treat children as the butt of jokes, often demanding a response.
When we had to call a tow truck last year, the driver repeatedly ribbed my daughter about crashing the car, jokingly pretending she was the driver. When she later asked me how she should have responded, I had no idea.
When she was a toddler, her own grandfather seemed to make fun of the fact that she ate anything at all. I really couldn’t explain why he thought it was funny. When she ate, he would just go into amock chewing routine.
When she went to the doctor for shots, bringing along her doll, the nurses made fun of the doll’s name for not being sufficiently “original.”
We witnessed some adults teasing a 4- year- old for allegedly having the same name as a princess. They kept asking, “Where’s your crown?” until she stated that she didn’t have one and walked away.
How on earth are children meant to respond?
Gentle Reader: Why anyone feels the need to tease people or state the obvious is beyondMissManners.
However, as your last example demonstrates, children generally lack the filter to censor themselves when asked silly questions, and are therefore mostly capable of adequate defense. When the children are old enough to control these impulses— which is younger than most are given credit for — a parent would do well to teach them the “weak smile” ( closed, upturned lips accompanied by a serious stare). While technically polite, when done correctly it conveys the proper amount of weariness to halt further unwanted teasing. This gesture will undoubtedly get them through amyriad of unfunny and unwelcome quips and conversations that, as humans, they will likely have to endure for a long time to come.
Dear Miss Manners: Frequently, I hear voicemail greetings where the person I amcalling informs me that they will return my call at their “earliest convenience.” Is this the appropriate/ polite way to use this phrase? Am I wrong to find this a bit rude?
Gentle Reader: Thephrase first appeared in business settings as a request (“Please return my call at your earliest convenience”), rather than a promise — the test results had come in and your doctor’s office was expressing the hope that you would call back.
Promising that you will call someone back when it is convenient to you certainly lacks charm, althoughMiss Manners suspects that people have heard the phrase somany times they have simply stopped parsing the actual words.