Daily Press (Sunday)

Slacker-turned-academic feels he no longer fits in back home

- Judith Martin Miss Manners DREAMSTIME

Dear Miss Manners:

Growing up, I was as bad a student as could be. I messed around so much, it felt like my entire childhood, I was being chased by school officials or my parents. I was lucky that both my parents were educators who exposed me to the world, but I did not graduate from high school and never read a book until adulthood.

This all flipped when I was around 20, and I wound up earning five degrees. (The first one was really tough and painful to get!) I really enjoy the new interests I’ve been exposed to and the things I’ve learned. Most of the time, my very educated friends feel so enriching to be around.

But sometimes when I go back home, old friends or acquaintan­ces who are not as educated will call me weird for the way I talk about or see the world. It feels a little like an insult — like I am weird for knowing there are 2 trillion galaxies. It’s just odd to be chastised for knowing something.

There is something beautiful about knowledge, and it just seems so normal to me. I am sure down deep inside, they feel inadequate at times, but it feels odd for me to address this. I honestly do not know what to say when it happens.

Remember when you got that first degree and it was really tough? Miss Manners encourages you to ask yourself why.

Did everyone around you seem smarter? Were

Gentle reader:

some even sanctimoni­ous about your ignorance on certain subjects?

No doubt, you never called them weird, and therein lies the difference. But if you can be patient with your less-educated friends, the way your parents and educators were with you, it might similarly inspire them.

If all else fails and your enthusiasm is still not catching, you may innocently say, “Oh. I thought it was cool, not weird. But I guess that’s subjective.” And then resist defining “subjective.”

Iam on dialysis three days a week for kidney failure. I have what’s called an AV fistula in my upper left arm, which is my access site for dialysis.

Because I have been on dialysis for 11 years, my access site has two large bumps from repeated needle sticks, in addition to a scar from the crook of my arm to just below my shoulder. When I wear short-sleeve shirts (which is year-round, since I live in the desert), I often get stares, which is fine; people can look at whatever they would like. However, I do get comments along the lines of, “What happened to your arm?” or worse, “What’s wrong with your arm?”

When I’m feeling instructiv­e, sometimes I will patiently explain about dialysis, then wait for the “sorry I asked” look. When I’m not feeling instructiv­e, I usually look at my right arm, which is perfectly average, and ask what they mean. Sometimes that deflects the question, sometimes not.

Is there a better way to handle these types of questions while maintainin­g some degree of good humor? I don’t want to be rude and say it’s none of

Dear Miss Manners:

their business.

The polite way to say “none of your business” is, “Thank you, but you needn’t concern yourself.”

Gentle reader:

I have a small fiber arts business, and am a generally crafty person. I embroider, sew, crochet and knit, and also do a variety of other crafts. I like to wear, display and talk about what I make, as I’m proud of it. However, this is often met with a response along the lines of, “I could never do that.”

I know it’s rude to reply with “Not with that attitude” or “You could if you practiced,” but I’m wondering what a polite response would be.

While it is often meant as a compliment, I feel that the “I could never” response implies that my abilities are innate rather than a skill set developed over years of work, so it makes me defensive and more likely to respond snarkily. Is there a way to graciously accept this as a compliment while also reminding people that I am good at what I do because I’ve worked hard at it?

Dear Miss Manners:

“Well, at one point, I couldn’t either.”

Gentle reader:

Do you give hostess gifts for a baby shower?

Dear Miss Manners:

Not unless the hostess is showering herself. Or hosting a shower for herself. Either one would be rude.

Gentle reader:

To send a question to the Miss Manners team of Judith Martin, Nicholas

Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin, go to missmanner­s. com or write them c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

Now that the holidays have passed, I just want your opinion of the hundreds — or is it thousands?

— of “gift guides” that have proliferat­ed in the past few years. It seems every fashion magazine intern has one (with some insanely expensive items like a Prada skirt for over $1,000). And they break down the categories so much: For the Dad Who Never Gets Off the Couch; For Your Mean, Fussy Sister-in-Law. I literally have spent hours pouring over them! And I’ve never bought a thing they recommend. Any guidance for next year?

— Pamela J.

Not all these people and their lists are grabbing your attention just because they feel like sharing. In some cases they get a portion of the cost of the item, which is why they put those links in their lists that cue the vendor to kick back some money. It’s big business.

That said, I have used a couple of those lists for ideas. I, too, have been reeled in and wasted too much time hoping to find the perfect present. If you really want to trim down the time you spend on finding the very best gift, the lists I’ve found especially useful are New York magazine’s The Strategist (nymag.com/strategist/) and The New York Times’ Wirecutter (nytimes.com/ wirecutter/).

They’re not infallible though. Years back I bought a coffee maker based on Wirecutter’s top pick and it almost required an engineerin­g degree to get it to make a simple cup

Dear Pamela:

of coffee. I went to Target and replaced it with a

Mr. Coffee for $29.99 that works just fine. Which is why I recommend checking the return policies before you press “buy.”

Dear Answer Angel Ellen:

I was dining out with my partner at a high-end restaurant during the pre-Christmas frenzy. In came a party of six and they all were dressed appropriat­ely. Except the guy with the red bow tie. And his gym shoes fashioned to look like Santa’s boots. Plus a necklace of blinking holiday lights. When is dressing for the holidays too much?

— Robert B.

You’re sounding a bit Grinchy. Some people are just Christmas Freaks who take Dec. 25 as an occasion to go wild with all things Christmas, including clothes and adornments. Clearly you are in the Bah Humbug camp and that’s OK.

But, with respect to fellow diners or anybody else whose outfit is over the top: Let them have their fun. Although, if the outfits make a big racket — say, noisy giant jingle bells — I’d say that is too much, at least for a restaurant. All this Santa/reindeer stuff will be gone by, hmmmm, Valentine’s Day (and bring on the heart-related, Cupid outfits)!

Dear Robert:

Angelic readers

Laraine M. writes: “I was meeting a very stylish cousin from out of town at a new art museum. We were going to view the new artwork and have lunch at the museum. Imagine my surprise when she came out of her cab wearing a nice pair of jeans and jean jacket. I wore a nice pants outfit that I had worn to work. From that time on, I was always aware that I could wear jeans except, of course, to a formal event. As time goes on, I predict fashion designers will make a full line of fancy denim to style into the high end of formal wear.”

(From Ellen: It’s already happening! Google “denim formal gowns” and there are hundreds to chose from, some more than $1,000.)

Reader rant

George P. gets it off his chest: “Not long ago you did an article on unisex clothing and it got me thinking about a beef that I have. In many catalogs like L.L.Bean, Lands’ End, etc., garments for women (let’s say winter jackets) are offered in some rich, vibrant colors, while the very same item for men is offered only in drab, uninterest­ing colors. I’d order the women’s version, but the tailoring would be wrong for me.”

Send your questions, rants, tips, favorite finds — on style, shopping, makeup, fashion and beauty — to answerange­lellen@gmail. com.

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