One-Minute Book Reviews

November 21, 2007

What to Say When Uncle Elmer Burps at Thanksgiving Dinner – And Other Holiday Dilemmas Resolved by Judith Martin, Miss Manners

The syndicated etiquette columnist tells how to deflect rudeness without being rude

Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say. By Judith Martin. Crown, 179 pp., $17.

By Janice Harayda

Judith Martin has written more than a dozen etiquette books under her nom de guerre of Miss Manners, but this is the one you need this week. The Right Thing to Say is a brisk field manual for anyone who wonders how to parry to all those rude questions and insensitive remarks that can occur in any season but peak at events like Thanksgiving dinner. As in her syndicated column, Miss Manners typically offers ideas that are witty, apt and polite, all dispensed in a question-and-answer format.

Are you single and wondering what to say to say when Cousin Herman asks you why you haven’t married? Miss Manners suggests, “Oh, Cousin Herman, you know I’m waiting for someone just like you.” Would you like to know how to silence an aunt who tells you that you’ve gained weight or gone gray? Miss Manners recommends, “Oh, thank you; how kind of you to notice.” Or perhaps you’re pregnant again and have heard too many comments like, “I’m glad it’s you and not me!” Miss Manners advises you to try, “I’m sure you mean to wish us the best.” And if you don’t know what to say when Uncle Elmer says “Excuse me” after burping, she offers the comforting: “No reply is appropriate.”

Miss Manners’s answers are entertaining even if you haven’t weathered the insults heaved at her correspondents. And if you get through Thanksgiving needing her advice, just wait. The office Christmas party is coming up.

Best line: “Why would anyone say ‘Congratulations’ to a couple who has just announced an engagement or the expected birth of a child? Congratulating people is what is now done at funerals. Anyone who has suffered a loss can expect to be told: ‘It’s really a blessing, you know’ … Those who are most skillful at comforting the bereaved with such congratulatory statements are able to go for a second round, Miss Manners has observed. When they have elicited a fresh outburst of woe, they congratulate the mourners again, this time for ‘dealing with’ or ‘working through’ their grief, or tell them what stage of grief they are at, as if grief were a subway stop. Thus they have the enormous satisfaction of having done something for their friends. Driven them to tears.”

Worst line: None, but the structure of the book is confusing. Instead of being grouped together, for example, related questions about dating and marriage appear on pages 79 and 109. And the index is so inconsistent, it’s all but useless.

Published: May 1998 www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Martin

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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