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Miss Conduct

Wigged out by “we’’

When a common greeting annoys, plus friends who comment on your weight.

By Robin Abrahams
June 6, 2010

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It’s almost impossible to go to a restaurant or store without the service person starting the conversation with “How are we today?” Am I the only person who hates the use of “we” instead of “you”? Sometimes I smile cheerfully and say, “Well, you did say ‘we,’ so why don’t we start with you? How are you today?” Needless to say, the service person is dumbfounded, and my husband is furious with me. His attitude is just to accept this horrible and phony grammar. I’m now finding that some colleagues at work will walk by me and start with the “How are we today?” Can you suggest a way to deal with this, since ignoring it just doesn’t work for me? I’m ready to order only takeout and shop only online, but I can’t resort to working from home. K.M. / Foxborough If you’re serious about the level of distress the use of “we” causes you, I think you might want to consider professional help. You aren’t really going agoraphobic over this, are you? Because other people’s verbal tics should not be affecting you that hard. If you’re being dryly melodramatic (e-mail makes it hard to tell), I’m afraid I can’t sympathize. “We” may grate, but other people are under no obligation to conform to your preferred greeting style, or mine. Perhaps you could wax philosophical and see it as an expression of our connection and interdependence as social beings: The quality of your day affects mine, and vice versa. We are partners in a social interchange. What kind of experience are we going to create together today?

Try taking the question in that spirit, and at least it will make syntactical sense to you, even if you continue to find the sentiment cloying. And please don’t decide that the answer is that we are going to make today as prickly and confusing as possible.

I have a friend who has made comments to me such as “You look so thin. Are you sick?” and “You look so thin. Is something wrong?” I see this person on a regular basis, and my weight has been the same (give or take 10 pounds) for the past 20 years. I find these comments rude and hurtful, so I usually don’t respond and try to change the subject. My husband says that I’m being overly sensitive, but I’d like to put an end to these remarks without being rude or insulting. What do you suggest? Anonymous / Boston

You are being overly sensitive – to your friend’s feelings. Her comments are out of line, and it would be a favor to yourself, her, and the relationship to let her know. She may be one of those lovingly overbearing, chicken-soup-bringing types who clucks over all her wee friends, most of whom may well find it as annoying as you do. Who wants to be told they look sick all the time? Even sick people don’t want that.

You needn’t make a big fuss over the matter with your friend; the less emotional you are, the less the chance her feelings will be hurt. The next time she asks you if you’re well, take a nourishing sip of broth to bolster your courage and say: “You know, you’ve made similar comments to me in the past about my weight. I’m actually fine – this is my natural weight and has been for a long time. And I promise you that if I ever am sick and there is something you can do, I will tell you. In the meantime, your questions make me feel awfully self-conscious.” Your friend may feel awfully self-conscious herself if she realizes that she’s been doing this for years, in which case you can have a good laugh about it. And keep in mind that if this is a habit of hers, based in who-knows-what deep-seated psychological dynamic, she may backslide once or twice, so be patient.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question or comment? Write to missconduct@globe.com. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.

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