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This is not a competition

Dear Miss Manners: Is it rude to ask someone how they know another person? I have a good friend who continually asks me how I know a given person, as if surprised that my path would have crossed with this person's.

For instance, if I am at the same party she is, she will ask me how I know the host. Her inflection implies that she simply doesn't understand why I would have been invited.

It wouldn't be a big deal except that I am starting to feel that she is becoming competitive, and I don't understand why. It has become very annoying. Do you have a good answer to this question that would be respectfully appropriate? I truly like her and don't want to compete.

Gentle Reader: Then don't. This is only a common conversational ploy, much used by those who have heard that asking people what they "do" (or, in the case of people they know, what they have been doing lately), is considered offensive because it is used to determine whether they are important enough to talk to.

Miss Manners asks you to assume that your friends, and even the strangers whom you meet through friends, do not intend to insult you unless they can come up with something more blatant.


Terms of address

Dear Miss Manners: I work in a facility where I often need to address and gain the attention of children, to remind them of rules such as no climbing, no roughhousing, etc.

For groups of children, I can address them as "boys and girls" or even "kids," and for single girls I can use the term "Miss," but I struggle in knowing how to address a single boy.

It seems strange to call a boy of 7 years old "Mister" or "Sir," but calling him "boy" doesn't sound right either.

I tend to default on some term of endearment such as "sweetie," although I dislike using that term for someone I don't know (and who isn't behaving well either!) How should one politely and kindly address children?

Gentle Reader: There are indeed polite conventional terms of address to use when correcting young people individually, but Miss Manners is wary of telling you what they are.

Oh, all right: They are "Young lady!" (exclamation point necessary to get the attention of someone who is misbehaving) and "Young man!"

You see the problem. They are not parallel. They should be "young lady" and "young gentleman" or "young woman" and "young man." Miss Manners herself is annoyed when she sees adjacent restrooms marked "Ladies" and "Men."

Yet those are the terms that are used. Perhaps your charges are too young to take offense.