Why Don't People See My Roommate the Same Way I Do?
Each week, Miss Manners answers questions exclusively from the MSN audience on all of your etiquette dilemmas. (Have an issue you want help with? Send in a question today.) Read on for this week's hot topics:
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
People just don't see my roommate the way I do.
When I look at her, I see the hilarious, kind, goofy, generous, fun-loving, down-to-earth roommate that I've had the privilege of living with this year.
Other people look at her and see only one thing: cerebral palsy. Well, that and the big red power scooter she uses to get around campus.
So, when I'm trying to tell someone who my roommate is, I describe her as Katie: the petite, blonde-haired, blue-eyed freshman Psych major who lives in such-and-such dorm down the hall from so-and-so, or something to that effect. You know, the characteristics you'd use to identify just about anyone: name, major, year, appearance, etc.
In response to this, I get blank stares.
But as soon as I say the word "scooter", most anyone on campus- professors, students, staff, etc- knows exactly who I'm talking about.
She's fine with that; she's been "the scooter kid" in the eyes of the general population for as long as she's had the thing. But I feel I'm being disrespectful to her when I bring the s-word ("scooter") into play, because I'm reinforcing the idea that her disability is her most important identifying characteristic, when that's nowhere near being true. She and I have been attached at the hip-- or, handlebar, if you will-- all year, and I see her in a very different light. Yes, she has CP, but that's not in the top ten or even top fifty things that come to mind when I think of her.
When it's obvious that a person isn't going to know who I'm talking about unless I bring her disability into the conversation, should I do so, or just drop it and say something like "Never mind; I'll point her out to you if I see her," or "I'll introduce her to you sometime." and leave it at that?
"Ordinarily, Miss Manners does not condone purposely mystifying people. But she can't help being delighted at what you are doing. And she is happy to defend it. After all, you are, as you say, merely describing your roommate in the same terms that you would describe anyone else."
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
My daughter's college roommate came to spend a few days at our house to celebrate my daughter's birthday during the summer. The evening after she arrived from her 5 hour trip she handed me an envelope from her mom. The envelope was a thank you card for having her daughter over for a few days and included a significant amount of money. It was a very sweet gesture and I was touched by the unexpected gift.
But I want to return the money. It was our pleasure and not an inconvenience at all. We were please to have her stay with us. Would it be rude to return the money? If not, would a thank you card be suitable?
"No doubt it was well meant, but Miss Manners does not consider payment for hospitality to be a sweet gesture. You should not be treated as if you were an innkeeper.
At the time, you could have given the money back to the young lady, saying, 'This must be meant as your spending money while you're here.' Now you should return it, merely saying, 'Thank you, but we were glad to have her here.'"
Judith Martin's latest book is No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice. She is also the author of Miss Manners' Guide toExcruciatingly Correct Behavior(Freshly Updated). She and her husband, a scientist and playwright, live in Washington, D.C. They have two perfect children, of course.
But what does Katie think? How does Katie descrbe her personal apperence? Where does Katie rank her CP in the way she views herself?
You may have to come to terms with the fact that refusing to talk about her red scooter maybe rather insulting to her. You are ignoring a part of her idenity becasue you feel bad for her. (Doubly insulting.)
Mentioning how she gets around to help people people put a name with a face is not something to be ashamed of. Because until the day she dies that will be her first identifying charaistic. Most people are not judging her or pitying her, they are just trying to sort through the billions of images of humans stored in their brains to figure out which person goes with that name.
I agree with artwork and steam engine. I think Miss Manners got this one wrong, and her advice, ironically, is rude. To encourage someone to be so pious while simply describing another human being is not only insulting, it's short-sighted and judgemental. How does the LW know what other people really think of her friend, if she is judging them for simply associating her friend with a scooter?
Case in point, albeit slightly different: I have red hair. While describing myself on the phone, to someone I had met only once, I described everything BUT my hair, ie: "I'm the woman you met a few weeks ago at the art walk, I'm a friend of Jenny's, we talked about such and such..." but the lady still couldn't place me. Finally I said, "I have red hair", to which she replied, "Oh of course! Why didn't you say that in the first place?" Yeah, I'm known as "the redhead", which is a bit of a cliche, and sometimes I'd like to be known for other attributes, but it's probably not going to ever happen. Embrace your differences. If you have an attribute that makes you stand out, that's ok, and you don't have to purposely confuse other people in an attempt to stand apart from it.
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