Dear Miss Manners: I am an American married to an Englishman who is a college professor, and who has lived in this country for about 35 years. I will be moving with him to England when we retire.
My husband, who is from a lower middle-class background like myself, has been knighted! He still answers his office phone as “Pete Smith.” He never corrects people in the way they address him.
The name on his business cards is “Peter Smith, Ph.D.,” plus a string of other letters including his knighthood, but of course most Americans can’t make heads or tails of that.
I admire his modesty, yet, perversely, I want to be “Lady Smith.” Will Miss Manners allow me to get away with this? If so, how?
Gentle Reader: Unfortunately, honors do not come with instructions for use, but your husband has the right instinct. In class-stratified societies, such as England, it is considered, well, low-class to refer to oneself using one’s title. And in an officially classless society, such as the United States, citizens do not use titles.
That said, Miss Manners would like to indulge your amusing yearning. Perhaps your own field of expertise is 19th-century British literature, and you grew fond of its designations.
Her advice is to make a little joke of it: “Well, actually, that’s Lady Smith, but you can call me Pamela.” Or, “Technically, I’m a lady, so I try to behave myself.” Or, “Sir Peter, I’m afraid it’s time for us to go home.”
Someone is bound to ask you what you mean. Then you, too, can be modest, and say, “Well, of course it’s not something we make a point of, but we do tease Pete about becoming a knight.”
Dear Miss Manners: The former office manager in the medical office that I work in has terminal pancreatic cancer. She is not doing well at all, sadly, and we are told she could pass any day now.
My co-worker is very close with her, and our former boss knows how much my co-worker loves to give out cards and how very important the birthdays of her loved ones are. Our former office manager’s birthday is coming up, and those of us in the office would love to let her know that we are thinking of her by giving her a birthday card.
However, we are uncertain as to what the correct protocol would be in a situation like this. Is it considered rude or disrespectful to show celebration of the birth of someone we care about when her life is so close to being cut short?
Gentle Reader: Cards are written by strangers. And while people may enjoy finding one that is particularly appropriate to the targeted recipient, or just sending a conventional statement with an illustration, these are form messages.
What you want to say to your co-worker is not a mere “Happy birthday,” which could indeed seem callous, but “We’re all thinking of you on your birthday, and we miss you.”
So Miss Manners recommends finding a pretty blank card and writing that out.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.