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WHEN THE DEPARTMENT HEAD MAKES A HORRIBLY INSULTING COMMENT

Dear Miss Manners: My beloved husband and I are delighted to be expecting our first child, but this is our second pregnancy. I suffered a miscarriage eight weeks into the first pregnancy.

While we were still flush with excitement over our first pregnancy, my husband shared our good news with the members of his department at work, with all of whom he has a close working relationship. All responded with joy and best wishes with the exception of the head of his department, whom I now refer to as Satan.

He responded thusly: "I hope the baby is white." (For reference, my husband and I are both Caucasian.)

Since I am not prone to using expletives, I truly do not have the words to describe how profoundly offensive this remark is to me and on, oh, so many different levels.

Setting aside the racist and sexist tone of Satan's remark for the moment, the fact this miserable excuse for a man, who does not even know me, could in essence accuse me of adultery in front of my husband defies belief. That he could do so while simultaneously casting doubt on the paternity of my child is even more reprehensible. That he would then choose to inflict this torture on my husband in a crowded room and at the moment of pure joy of sharing his expectant fatherhood smacks of intentional cruelty.

Add to this the fact that our child died soon after Satan's heartless performance, and you can see why I have come to hate this man as I have never hated anyone else in my life. Since learning of this event, I have more than once wished that we were living a century ago so that my husband could force this waste of skin to eat his words on the field of honor. I am, as you might guess, both a Southerner and an amateur historian.

Now I am faced with the prospect of having to attend "parties" where I shall be expected to interact in a friendly manner with my husband's co-workers and their wives. I shall invariably be expected to speak to Satan, as he is my husband's boss's boss.

What do I say to Satan when I see him? How can I smile on the devil? Now that I am "showing," how do I respond if he tries the same "joke" or says something even worse?

My blood boils and my skin crawls at the very thought of being in the same room with this hellhound, but of course I do not want to do any damage to my husband's career. Yet I am afraid that at the slightest provocation, all the rage I feel will come pouring out regardless of who is watching. The anxiety over what is to come is wearing on me.

Please tell me how I should prepare for this encounter with Satan! Does etiquette require me to act as if nothing happened?

Gentle Reader: Now that the duel is banned, as you note with regret, etiquette's strongest weapon is to shun people deemed to be beneath contempt. Miss Manners does not disagree with your assessment of this person, but she does worry about the intensity of your hatred. You might want to remind yourself that he did not actually kill your first unborn child.

Shunning means walking away from the offender, although if you do it at a gathering, you should do it with deniability -- heading elsewhere when you see him coming, pretending not to notice his greeting, and so on. Etiquette does not require you to pretend friendship for a crude bigot, but it requires you to refrain from making a scene -- and would even if it had no effect on your husband's job.

Even better would be simply to withdraw from office partying altogether. Now people will assume it is related to your pregnancy, and soon it really will be related to your parental duties.

Eschew chewing fish bones

Dear Miss Manners: Please be good enough to advise on what to do when eating fish in a restaurant and finding one's self with a mouthful of bones. Also how should one deal with the bones that are sticking out of the fish itself, either on the plate or on the fork poised to enter the mouth?

Gentle Reader: Removing fish bones from the mouth is easy because the correct method is to remove them by hand. Note that Miss Manners said the correct method, not just the expedient one.

The hard part is to deal with people whose jaws drop open, not to remove their own fish bones, but because they do not know that a method that would be indignantly condemned for meat or poultry bones is indulgently approved for fish bones.

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