Every Sunday, Marie Antoinette, the once and always Queen of France, answers questions on love, life and etiquette. If you have your own question for the queen, please write to whatwouldmarieantoinettedo at gmail dot com.
Last week one of our regular readers asked me how a nice girl can nicely manage not-so-nice people with not-so-nice intentions. It’s an essential point I learned well at Versailles with my very own aunts-in-law, Mesdames. They would often pretend they were my friends and ask me all manner of questions and lure me into not-advisable situations. It wasn’t for years that I realized their intentions didn’t always have my interests in mind and that they were gossipy, meddly troublemakers. Mesdames, like most meddlers, pull their information straight from their sources in the most devious of ways. They’re the types who ask you things you can’t believe and think you need to answer. They shame you into thinking that you should be ashamed not to trust them, not to be open, not expose whatever information they desire. As I’ve gotten older I’ve devised a list of things I should have said to them but didn’t imagine at the time. They weren’t openly rude to me but these strategies work for those who are. They’re strategies that work for the meddlers, mean girls and catty courtiers in any era.
What to say when you can’t believe you need to say anything at all
A thank you + silence.
“Oh, Thanks so much for your interest,” followed by a long and silent stare. Silence will fail to feed meddlers’ ego and make them uncomfortable enough to stop.
The Bright shining light.
“That’s rude.” Awful people don’t think they are awful. They also count on the fact that good people will be too good to call them out on their awfulness. Explain the rudeness like you would the color of a wall. Do not be emotional. Do not argue the point of their rudeness. Imagine you are training a small child or animal who needs constant reinforcement. You’ll throw the rude people off their bearings and they’ll think before they’re rude again.
The shameless pet inquiry.
“I’ve got it all under control. By the way, your pups look darling today. How do you keep their coats so shiny?” Today, as in the 18th century, pet owners can never talk about their pets enough. Almost every member of the royal family had a dog (Mesdames kept spaniels) and were likely as distracted by them as any modern doggy mom. If pets are lacking, hobbies will do in a pinch. Just find something that makes a meddler’s face light up and forget about you completely.
The why-are-you-asking-me-this-again dismissal
“Oh, I can’t imagine how that’s interesting or anything anyone would need to know about.” It begs of meddlers: What specifically is wrong with you and why on Earth do you want to know about this? This often embarrasses even the rudest person.
“It’s a really private issue that I prefer to discuss with my husband / maman.” It’s a way to say, “It’s none of your business,” and firmly definines that this issue is set aside for friendlies, not meddlers.
The scale back.
Stop sharing. I, like you, sometimes confided in the wrong people and that’s what happened when I confided in Mesdames. They didn’t want to console me and be my shoulder to cry on, but to learn the who, what, where, and why so they could use it against me later. I eventually abandoned Mesdames when I became queen, preferring my young friends to the older spinsters. Mesdames bored with daily pleasantries and life in the background and eventually left Versailles for the Chateau de Bellevue.
What are your strategies for dealing with rude or interfering people? Share your ideas in the comments.