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Children, not adults, can have birthday parties every year

Dear Miss Manners: How often should a child have a birthday party during his or her childhood?

Gentle Reader: How often does the child have a birthday?

Perhaps you are confused by Miss Manners’ rule that limits major adult celebrations to only three in a lifetime. This is so as not to overtax one’s friends and appear childishly indulgent.

Miss Manners is more generous with actual children. She permits them a birthday party every year – at their parents’ discretion, and as long as there is no registry nonsense.

So then the question is, at what age is childhood finished? While she is inclined to leave this to the philosophers, her guess would be 18. Thus if a huge occasion is made of the 21st birthday, the next two could be scheduled at ages 50 and 100.

Talking to strangers

Dear Miss Manners: When I have been in waiting rooms or similar settings and another person sitting next to me begins a conversation, I will acknowledge them and respond. However, there have been times when the other person will become negative and make comments that I consider inappropriate or offensive to others, whether or not those others are there.

For instance, a lady sitting near me one day last week began complaining about people who do not speak English, and saying, “Don’t you agree?” The next day, a man sitting next to me was saying that all young people are lazy and expect a handout.

People have picked me out in a group as someone who wants to hear their opinions on politics, religion and just about everything else.

Please tell me how I can politely get out of being drawn into these negative diatribes.

Gentle Reader: By not speaking to strangers, as you were once taught. They sometimes say strange things.

Rebuffing a talker in a waiting room or on an airplane cannot be as harsh as, for example, reacting to a stranger who has made an invitation to you on the street. In that case, Miss Manners advises walking away, if not calling the police.

But chatting with people in a confined situation such as a waiting room or airplane is optional. You can break in when the conversation turns unpleasant, or even tedious, by the same method for heading it off entirely: “Forgive me, but I can’t talk right now.”

This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s daughter, Jacobina Martin. Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.