DEAR MISS MANNERS: At a social event given by an organization in which my spouse is active, a member asked me, “Do you still work?”
I was somewhat taken aback by this question. I am in my late 50s, and am told that my appearance and dress match my age.
This is not the first time a newly met person in a social situation has asked me this question, with emphasis on the “still.” Each time, I have tried to come up with an appropriate response, but have been somewhat tripped up.
I have an advanced degree and work in a career that has taken years to build. I have no intention of retiring in the near future, and it feels quite rude when people imply that I am too old to “still” be working.
Am I being too sensitive? Is there a good response to this question? I don’t wish to return rudeness for rudeness. However, I would like to have an appropriate answer that feels authentic.
GENTLE READER: “Yes; do you?”
Miss Manners remembers the days when gentlemen routinely asked ladies whether they worked. It was amazing how flabbergasted they were when she bounced the question right back.
She agrees that any such question is patronizing, at best. But you needn’t attribute it to the notion that you look old enough to retire. You could have been fired, in which case the inquiry would have made you feel even worse. Or you could have sold the rights to a video game you invented for a sum that allows you to wallow in idle luxury.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am very busy at work and almost never take an actual lunch break. I normally eat at my desk while continuing to work.
When my boss comes into my office to talk about something work-related, as he frequently does, does etiquette require me to stop munching on my sandwich while he’s there? Or may I continue to eat while we talk?
GENTLE READER: You stop eating. You have already made the point that you are so devoted to your work that you forgo taking a lunch break. Miss Manners doubts that it would further impress your boss if you answered questions with your mouth full.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When someone thanks me, I understand that I am supposed to say, “You’re welcome.” I find it overly formal, and when I do use it, it sounds awkward and rusty.
Most of the time, I find myself responding with phrases like “Sure thing!” and “No problem,” which I know some people view as impolite. Would you please suggest a polite alternative response?
GENTLE READER: Would you please stop using the word “formal” as if it means “snobbish”?
“You’re welcome” is merely the standard English reply to being thanked. “No problem,” which is a version of the response in other languages (“de nada,” “il n’y a pas de quoi” or “de rien”), is coming into common use, although it still annoys some people.