Published On: Sat, Feb 10th, 2024

Miss Manners: Writer hates talking about work in social settings

Miss Manners: Writer hates talking about work in social settings
Miss Manners: Writer hates talking about work in social settings


Dear Miss Manners: I am a writer. When I am asked about my occupation in social settings, I am always hesitant to answer. More often than not, the person is not only curious about the entire publishing process, from idea to print, but they also have a book idea they want to pitch. For example: “I have a great idea for a book! I just need a writer.” I was even asked once to help someone’s child write a college paper!

I am proud of the work I do, but rarely take on outside projects, and certainly not at a cocktail party. I work with several publishers, and therefore editors, and do not feel inclined to provide, for example, the name/contact information of my editor, nor to answer “how much something like that pays” and “how do I get my stuff published?”

I have a professional website, but some of the topics I write about are controversial, so I hesitate to give out that address outside of a professional setting. It’s getting so that I dread meeting new people, though I actually love socializing! Help!

It is an unfortunate truth that every profession has its social impositions. Doctors are asked to give free medical advice, lawyers to dispense legal counsel and performers to perform. Miss Manners assures you that no one is under obligation to do so, if able to say — politely, with a slightly tired smile — “I’m not on duty tonight.”

However, it is a telltale sign of amateurs to volunteer these things for an unwitting (and usually unwanting) audience. So perhaps rather than saying you are a writer, you could say instead, “I write.” This subtle distinction might lead people who do not know you to consider it a hobby and leave you alone. That is, if you are willing to trade tiresome professional requests for amused condescension.

Dear Miss Manners: We are hosting a birthday party for our child. We have neither requested nor forbidden presents. We’re happy to accept them, but also happy to just enjoy the company of the attendees.

If our child does receive gifts, is it polite to open them at the party so that the givers can enjoy his delight? Or is it better to set any presents aside, so we don’t show them off or make it seem like gifts were expected? Which is more gracious? Regardless, we will send out thank-you notes with our son’s participation, which is usually some cute scribbles.

Opening presents at children’s birthday parties is a generally expected ritual, but increasingly optional. Done with the proper amount of preparation, however, it can, as you say, be delightful. It is also a chance to teach children what not to say (“I already have that!”) and to be gracious even when they do not feel like it (“But I wanted the red one, not blue!”).

Given that your son is already being taught to send thank-you letters, Miss Manners has no doubt that if you choose to open presents during the party, he will be charming. She would instruct others, however, to weigh the possibility of its not going so well and proceed accordingly.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.


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