Dear Margo: I’m experiencing a problem I assume other medical professionals experience. I’m a graduate student in a medicinal chemistry and drug design program, but I’m considering telling people I’ve just met that I clean houses for a living. Don’t get me wrong, I love and am proud of what I do. The problem arises when I explain that my work has ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
Upon hearing this, many middle-aged and older people begin telling me about the drugs they take. Often, the person inadvertently tells me a lot more about their medical history than they intended, because I know why each of their drugs is prescribed. A few times, people have even confided in me that they take a lower dose than their doctor told them to, or they don’t always pick up drugs their doctor calls in.
How do I get myself out of these conversations so that I can enjoy a party? And how do I explain that these are conversations they should be having with their doctor (about not taking the correct dosage, or not taking drugs prescribed to them), and not with a new acquaintance at a party? — Cornered
Dear Corn: The way to get yourself out of these conversations is not to get into them. Because you are referring to people you’ve just met, I offer you The Airplane Trick.
When traveling by air (mostly in the U.S., because “What do you do?” is an American question), some people in interesting professions have taken to saying their field is “geotechnical engineering” or some such highfalutin endeavor unintelligible to most people. Should an outlier ask, “What’s that?” simply say the explanation would take longer than the flight. — Margo, abstrusely
When Cost Doesn’t Matter
Dear Margo: I am a couponer who has been lucky to stockpile expensive products. My question concerns my coupons and etiquette. Is it acceptable to use items from my stockpile as gifts? For example, a friend of the family is having a baby. They are struggling financially, and the husband was laid off soon after the wife found out she was pregnant. In lieu of a gift I asked the woman to come over and “shop” at my house. I wanted to help cut their expenses so the money they do have can be used for other things. Since I have every thing from cleaning supplies to personal hygiene items to baby wipes, I thought it more prudent to help with everyday items, rather than buy, say, baby clothes.
Do you think this is appropriate? I do not want to come off as cheap. The woman will be taking home more than $250 in products that are the best name-brand items. Because of the coupons, though, I only paid about $20 for it all. I also make gift baskets of full size and sample-sized matching items from the stockpile. What do you think of this? — Coupon Crazy in Kansas City
Dear Coup: I think it sounds wonderful. It doesn’t matter what the items cost the person giving the gift. What’s important is what your friends get. Think of your cost as “wholesale,” and the recipients not having to pay retail — or pay anything, actually — makes it a gift. You sound as though you are very thoughtful about who should get what, and I suspect your young pregnant friend will have a great time shopping for free. And the gift baskets sound very festive. You sound like a master couponer, so I would just keep on doing what you’re doing. — Margo, generously
When Fudging the Facts Is Acceptable
Dear Margo: I have a friend, “Sally,” who years ago went through infertility issues with her husband. After several years, they elected to use an egg donor and successfully had three beautiful children (who look mostly like daddy). Now, years later, when discussing the past, she discusses it like it was a miracle of prayer, not science. I don’t want to ask her why she’s changing the facts of the past, but she’s so convincing with her story that it’s starting to make me wonder if I’m crazy. All of her friends go along with her story, too. Am I making too much of this? — Stickler for Facts
Dear Stick: Well, what is her story? You do not specify exactly what she is saying. That no egg donor was involved? That these kids were born in a manger? From my knowledge of couples with fertility problems and endless rounds of treatment, I suspect three beautiful children could, in fact, seem like a miracle.
While I understand your taking issue with your friend’s rewritten version of history, where, really, is the harm? This should not be an irritant to you, unless you are a fact checker for The New Yorker. You might want to think about why you are so bothered by a friend’s touched-up version of what must have been a distressing period in her life. She is not, after all, fobbing herself off as a Vanderbilt heiress; she is merely blurring the history of how she came to have three beautiful children. — Margo, miraculously
Passive Aggressive Behavior/Food Division
Dear Margo: After suffering for much of my life, I found out a few years ago that I have some severe food intolerances and allergies. It was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that my diet will always have to be quite limited, but I am now beginning to enjoy my newfound health, and I’m creatively coming up with new ways to eat well.
My issue is with my family. I don’t visit them very often, as I am a student in a different city, but when I do, they never seem to get that I just can’t eat certain types of food. Without fail, I am served something I can’t eat, or they make it and eat it in front of me, raving about how good it is and it’s too bad I can’t have any, poor me. Even my grandmother does this. It makes me feel that my family is incredibly insensitive, and frankly, I’m getting tired of it. I don’t want to act like a victim, so I just smile and carry on. Is there a tongue-in-cheek way to let them know I have had enough before I lash out at one of them? — My Way
Dear My: I would stop smiling. What is going on is somewhere between dim and mean. While I am generally in favor of using humor to defuse uncomfortable situations, I am not recommending it in your case because this aggressive effort to push food on you that is harmful is beyond someone saying things that are merely thoughtless. No offense, but these family members are either incredibly thick or strangely unconcerned with your health.
The next time this happens, I would ask: “What part of my doctor’s orders do you not understand? And why would you want me to eat something that would cause a serious reaction? While you are free to eat whatever you like, I would consider it a favor if you would not rave about something you are enjoying that you know I cannot have.” When people seriously misstep, I have no interest in sparing their feelings. — Margo, directly
Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at www.creators.com/dearmargo. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.