Miss Manners: How do I escape a public encounter without causing a scene?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there an appropriate, polite way to handle toxic family members whom you have had no contact with in years who, when they do happen to run into you in a public place, insist on hugging you and saying they love you? When in fact, their actions over your entire life have proven otherwise?

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I don’t feel as though I should be subject to these uncomfortable and definitely unwanted encounters, nor do I have any feelings of love for these individuals.

Is there a polite way to avoid the physical contact and the “I love you,” which I have no response for at all?

GENTLE READER: It is difficult to escape a hug in public without inspiring passersby to call the police. But just as you do not echo the declaration of love, you need not cooperate with the hug. Just let your arms remain at your side, Miss Manners suggests.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What are the three main subjects you should not discuss socially?

GENTLE READER: Only three? You must be joking.

The old rule was that politics, sex and religion should not be discussed in casual conversation among people whose sensitivities and opinions were unknown to one another. The rationale was to avoid offending anyone unintentionally.

This rule fell into disuse — and ridicule from some, who responded, “So, we are only supposed to talk about the weather?” They would argue that those three subjects are important, and that people can be trusted to handle them in a mature way.


Now, almost any topic causes offense. Politics, of course. Sex, not because people are squeamish (which has not been the case in a century, if ever), but in regard to issues of orientation and identity. Religion, not only because it is intertwined with politics and sex, but also as an identity issue.

But those three are not all. Food, for example, has become a controversial subject in terms of both nutrition and ethics. As for the weather being the only “safe” topic left — not if the conversation turns to climate change.

The real problem is not subject matter, but people who no longer care whether they cause casual offense. They may relish doing so — not only to those whose affiliations and opinions they do not know, but also, perhaps especially, among those they do know. Such as their own relatives.

Their justification is that they are challenging ignorance, prejudice and bigotry of whatever kind. Which would be noble, if only it worked.

Miss Manners regrets to observe that the usual current method of pointing out others’ errors is to belittle them. And oddly enough, this does not prod them to respond, “Wait, you have a point. I am totally wrong. Please straighten me out.”

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Miss Manners does not want to limit topics; she just wants to limit the way they are discussed.

People who listen respectfully to those with whom they disagree, refrain from using personal invectives, state their points objectively and, if necessary, accept that differences remain, should be able to hold conversations on any topic with those who observe the same courtesies.

But such people seem to be in short supply now.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.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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