What is a Polite Way to Stop People From Probing Me About My Religion?
Each week, Miss Manners answers questions exclusivelyfrom the MSN audience on all of your etiquette dilemmas.(Have an issue you want help with? Send in aquestiontoday.) Read on for this week's hot topics:
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
I am a Caucasian woman who is Muslim and wears a headscarf. I live in a relatively rural, non-diverse state. A common situation for me is as follows:
I will be at a store/gas station/etc and the clerk will ask me where I am from. I answer I'm from here (I live in my home state). He/she will then ask me where my parents are from. I answer the same. He/she will then ask me where my husband is from. I say where he is from (a large city in the US). He/she asks where my husband is originally from. I state he was born in aforementioned city. He/she then asks me where his parents are from. I state they are from X (a middle-eastern, predominantly Muslim country).
Aaah...I finally see the relaxation in their face and understanding in their eyes. I know this is a lengthy description, but my point is that it is very annoying to go through this process. It happens probably every other month or so (thankfully the vast majority of people today are fairly worldly/polite and not nearly as prying).
Not only do I find it rather rude to have to go through my entire genealogy (and my husband's) with a complete stranger, but I also find it slightly off-putting that they are so perplexed by a Caucasian Muslim that they simply won't rest until they understand this "enigma."
What would be a polite way to stop this line of questioning from complete strangers? I'm struggling because it's not as though I can say I don't want to tell you why I'm the color/religion I am when they are initially just asking my birthplace...although perhaps that is considered a rather personal question from a complete stranger...
People also often ask me (upon seeing my headscarf I presume) if I am Muslim. I don't mind discussing such things with friends or even say close acquaintances. However, I don't see the need to discuss my religion with complete strangers (particularly those I will never see again - such as the man walking along the street who asked me while I was filling my parking meter and then expressed his condolences with me over having to fast during Ramadan).
My answer usually then leads to a bevy of other questions as well which I consider too personal for a passing conversation. Thank you again for the much needed advice.
"Evidently, you are spending far too much time at the grocery store and gas station. Miss Manners assures you that politeness does not require you to respond to biographical quizzes from strangers.
Granted that 'Where are you from?' sounds innocuous, almost a greeting, to which you can reply and then follow with 'And where are you from?' But when you receive a follow-up question, it's time to sign off with, 'Well, nice talking to you. How much do I owe?'"
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
I am hosting an 80th birthday party for my Mother at a nice local restaurant and I've invited 30 of her friends to attend. These friends are from various stages of Mom's life and the groupings don't plan out well for tables of 8. Should I worry about assigning a seat to people or do I just let everyone find their own seat?
"Well, if you seat them, they will complain and ask to change, and if you don't seat them, they will take forever to settle down and then ask to change. Miss Manners assures you that it will be easier to deal with the restaurant staff than with them.
Basically, the people who knew one another at particular stages of your mother's life will want to have little reunions. Rather than trying to fit them into groups of eight, ask to have tables of different sizes set for those various groups."
Judith Martin's latest book is No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice. She is also the author ofMiss Manners' Guide toExcruciatingly Correct Behavior(Freshly Updated). She and her husband, a scientist and playwright, live in Washington, D.C. Theyhave two perfect children, of course.
Your reader should be glad at least people assume what she actually is - a Muslim. My kids are often assumed to be from China, which they definitely are not!
Would the Muslim lady rather be offended over someone wanting to know more about another religion, or by their actions due to their ignorance?
KGH: My youngest was the cause for several similar types of questions. I'd either answer that he's mine and hold their gaze, or say that the reason why he doesn't look like his sister is because the inquisitor (or male partner) is the father. Tends to shut people up. I felt for my kids though, because they do not look alike and kids at school would argue that they were not siblings.
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