DEAR MISS MANNERS -- Trying to keep the conversation going at a family dinner, I decided to look at people's hands. I remarked that one grandson and also his wife had beautiful hands. However when I came to my other grandson's hands, well, they were huge and I didn't really have much time to think, so I said, "Your hands would be slimmer if they weren't so fat." Well, that obviously was the wrong thing to say, as he is overweight, although truthfully, I wasn't thinking of that. He was furious! My daughter-in-law said, "That's your grandmother for you," and he said, "We don't have to take that!" So everyone looked at me, and I felt like crawling under the table. Is it normal for anyone to be that sensitive? I really didn't intend to hurt his feelings, but I do feel that most people would have just flubbed it off and said, "Thanks a lot," or something. I am 80 years old, and I just feel that he was not respectful. Or am I wrong? Isn't there such a thing as being overly sensitive? GENTLE READER -- You know who is beginning to get oversensitive about such claims? Your very own Miss Manners. She is far too polite to exhibit fury, but she is really exasperated with the common double whammy you describe: First you deliver an obvious, standard insult to an unsuspecting person, and then, when he is insulted by it, you hit him again, with the coy insult of being oversensitive. It is not that Miss Manners fails to realize that people can say perfectly stupid things they don't mean. That is why we have the fine old institution of the apology. As you immediately realized your error, you should have started groveling: "I can't believe I said that! That's not what I meant at all! You have beautiful hands; I've always thought so. Whatever idiotic joke I thought I was attempting, it came out all wrong. Will you ever forgive me? I hate myself for being such a fool...." Had you done this, and your nephew not finally interrupted you by muttering, "Oh, that's all right, forget it. I know you didn't mean it," Miss Manners would now be on your side. But you allowed the insult to stand, thus allowing him to believe that you did mean to insult him. And now you want to act insulted at him because he was insulted that you insulted him. That strikes Miss Manners as undersensitive.
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