Dear Miss Manners: I was taken aback by my elders’ reactions to an anecdote about an encounter with a strange man who accosted me in a public place.
I have suddenly found myself to be a young lady, gradually achieving independence in the world, and, I am told, quite attractive. I have been approached by strangers with increasing frequency in the past few years, and as I am usually by myself and on foot, I have made it my policy that a brief exchange of polite conversation is acceptable, but as soon as a stranger calls me beautiful or makes a similar remark about my biology, the talk is over, and I quickly continue my prior business.
This was the end of my story that I related to my parents and my grandmother. My father was, overall, approving that I do not tolerate strange men and amused that I had walked away. This did not surprise me. My mother, on the other hand, suggested that I behave more like my sister, who, armed with a quick tongue and rapier wit, frequently enjoys making sport of her admirers.
My grandmother further shocked me when she said that I was behaving poorly and missing some wonderful opportunities to make friends and connections in the world, and that she frequently stops to have an exchange with strange men who call her lovely.
Miss Manners, I am loath to make contact with lewd young men. If approached as a lady with, perhaps, a comment on our environment, a compliment on an unusual possession or a question for directions, I may be inclined to continue with polite conversation. If a young man cannot think to talk about anything but my physiology, he must have mistaken me for a different kind of woman, and not a young lady who strives to remain respectable.
Were you to inform me that my ways are unduly harsh, I should endeavor to bear such attentions, although I had to this point believed that my behavior would be sanctioned by polite company.
Gentle Reader: Really? Your mother wants you to engage in banter with lewd strangers, and your grandmother believes that encouraging them would enrich your social life?
So much for the wisdom of your elders. When you were little, did they advise you to be friendly to strangers who offered you candy or rides in their cars?
Do they imagine that the remarks you describe are made by gentlemen who hope that they will lead to the discovery that you share an interest in history or art or gardening, and that a friendship or romance might then develop?
Miss Manners can only hope that you have the good sense not to listen.