“I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they have not said enough.” – Mark Twain

WE have probably met some people with a skill for keeping a discussion going on at our expense.

If we have a friend who finds it entertaining to bring up personal stories about us, making us feel uncomfortable, he may not be aware of our unease.

We may say, “Can we save this story for another time?”

If we want to make our message stronger, let’s say, “Wait! That’s embarrassing to me, you’ll have to keep it to yourself.”

If our companion makes loud comments about the people seated at the next table, we may say, “Can you please keep your voice down? I’m sure those people can probably hear you. I don’t think we should be talking about them.”

For the incident where a friend tells an anecdote of questionable taste, possibly while riding in an elevator or on line at a movie, we may say, “Can we save this story for another time?” When we’re not in public.”



Charlotte Ford and Jacqueline deMontravel, in the 21st Century Etiquette, say asking someone about her income, relationships, or how old is she is naturally impolite–yet people still seem to ask questions of a personal nature.

As rules in manners become more lenient, they said this one has not slackened.

“For those bold enough to impose an improper question, a little wit can gently put offenders in their place,” they suggested.

Ford narrates that when her six-year-old granddaughter asked a family friend why he had gotten so fat, she was instructed on why such presumptuous behavior is impolite.

When an acquaintance asks her who her therapist was, she told her: “I don’t have one, but who is yours?”



Ford suggests a partial answer to potentially embarrassing questions asked out of ignorance.

For instance, a friend who had just seen her lawyer about a separation agreement was confronted at a cocktail party by a well-meaning acquaintance who asked about how her husband was.

She replied, “He’s been extremely busy at work.”

Her answer satisfied the questioner without giving away any personal particulars, Ford points out.

If a question offends us, such as “How much did your CD player cost?,” there’s no need to be indignant, Fords explains.

She says an evasive but polite answer is the best reply, such as “I don’t remember” or “It was a gift.”

When people ask tactless or antagonistic questions meant to put us on the defensive, we can do what certain politicians do so well—evade the question entirely, says Ford.

For example. “How come you aren’t married yet?”—a question often put to single people by a smug newlywed–may be countered with, “Are you about to propose?” Or, less coyly, “I’m flattered by your interest in my personal affairs but I’m baffled as to why you’re so curious.”

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)