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Stand in the place where you live ...

Posted by Robin Abrahams  February 14, 2012 01:53 PM

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The conference Mr. Improbable and I are going to, like all its kind, will have plenty of parties and receptions and semi-structured schmoozing time. And for the first time in years, I can stand on my feet in relative comfort for more than a couple of minutes. 

I suspect this is going to do wonders for my small-talk skills. 

My lower-back problems are the usual tsuris that affects most adults some time in their lives -- a little muscle weakness here, a little scoliosis there. I'm flexible and I can walk forever, but standing still used to be almost impossible. (Museums were the worst--short, slow walks interspersed with standing still could throw my back out for days.) It got worse gradually, and when that happens, it's easy to accommodate without quite realizing you're doing it.

Notice, sometime, how many conversations you have while you are on your feet. At the Keurig at work. With another parent in the park. In line at Trader Joe's. Waiting for the T. 

I was shortchanging all those conversations, or not even letting them begin. I'm the one who returns your "Hello!" and keeps on walking, who doesn't stay around for the wine and cheese after the seminar, the one who doesn't linger in the conference room. 

Last weekend I ran into a friend at the grocery store. We got to talking about all sorts of things, from the price of milk to the sociology of Catholics who reject Vatican II reforms. At one point, without even thinking, I wandered off in the middle of our conversation and grabbed a bag of apples. And then I realized, I don't have to do this. I can just stand here, and talk, and it won't hurt. I can pay attention to my friend and ignore my body

That's really what health is, isn't it -- the privilege to ignore our bodies when we want to. To attend to other concerns, to other people. 

What illnesses or disabilities do you have that have affected your social life, or your manners? Baseline etiquette tends to assume a fully able body: a body that can shake hands; drink alcohol; stand, sit, and turn with ease; write legibly; perceive the nuances of others' facial expressions and words. Not everyone's body cooperates with these requirements, not all of the time. What do you do when your body doesn't? 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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