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Miss Manners: Doctor can deflect cocktail chatter about health care

Dear Miss Manners: I am about to complete 14 years of medical training and graduate as an oncology physician. I am female, with a generally open, warm manner, and can usually handle a wide variety of social situations.

However, when I meet new people outside of work, and they ask what I do, I occasionally answer truthfully.

This too often results in unsolicited commentary that is at best embarrassing (“You’re an angel! How do you do it? Isn’t that SO SAD?”), and at worst a complete occasion-destroyer when people launch into their own, again unsolicited, health history, or the tragic history of a friend or family member. Or the conversation immediately devolves into a heated debate (between others) on the state of our health care system, or conspiracy theories about how “the cure is out there” but being kept from them.

I have tried answering less-than-truthfully (“I work in health care”), which can end in guessing games and draw out the conversation unnecessarily. How do I avoid being a cocktail party conversation killer?

Gentle Reader: Whatever is said about your profession, your response should be, “Well, it’s the kind of job that makes you grateful to get away among friends and talk about something else.”

Miss Manners trusts that you will say this with a smile. You can then turn to someone else and say, “I imagine you feel the same way about your work.”

Ungrateful guests

Dear Miss Manners: Occasionally I enjoy entertaining friends by inviting them to a dinner party at my home, where I prepare the food. When I invited a somewhat new friend and his spouse to such a dinner, they accepted readily.

However, I was surprised when he called a little more than one day before the dinner to inquire about the menu. Basically, I was told that my planned menu simply wouldn’t do, as they would not care for anything I had planned to serve.

They arrived late for the dinner and left before dessert was served because they had planned to visit a nearby ice cream emporium on the way home.

Needless to say, I am not eager to invite them again. However, I would like your opinion as to how I should have reacted when the call was made to discuss the menu.

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners would have advised you to accept that graciously, saying, “Well, I’m sorry my dinner won’t be suitable for you. Perhaps some other time …”