View Them As Sufferers Like You

Dear Miss Manners: I am not exceptionally tall, but at 6 feet 1 inches, my knees just barely fit behind the seat ahead of me in the cramped arrangements of modern aircraft. It is often impossible for me to lower the tray table and sit in a natural position.

The person ahead of me often insists on leaning their seat all the way back as soon as the plane leaves the ground. Do these people not realize that any increase in their personal space can only come at the expense of those around them?

Do people have to be inconsiderate just because they are presented with the opportunity?

The prospect of being in an impossibly small space for the next few hours makes me feel so frustrated that I cannot think of any polite thing to say to the seat leaner, so I try to keep to myself.

Gentle Reader: Didn’t it occur to you that you could lower your tray table and work or eat with reasonable comfort if you leaned your own seat back? But, wait! Don’t try it! What about the person behind you?

If you fell for her suggestion, as Miss Manners intended, you would see that it is not malevolence, or even selfishness, that makes passengers use their airplane seats to try to make themselves comfortable. Your enemy is not the other passenger, but whoever made the decision to cram in the seats while offering the illusion that there is room in which everybody can lounge in comfort.

Miss Manners realizes this doesn’t solve the problem. But it should enable you to be polite to a fellow sufferer while asking that person to forgo a bit of extra comfort that would make you acutely uncomfortable.

Dear Miss Manners: While trying to work my way through several bureaucracies to get our air conditioner repaired, I encountered a voice-mail message that you might find interesting.

It gave the usual greetings and reassurances, including the ritual “Your call is very important to us,” and then said, “If you know your party’s last name, you may reach the directory and be connected.”

I realized that I did not, in fact, know my party’s last name because she had introduced herself to me only by her first name. I could have known her last name only if I had been a personal acquaintance of hers.

In short, the last name has taken the place formerly held by the first name as an index of intimacy!

How long before the love-struck swain asks his inamorata for permission to call her by her last name? “Mary, I love you. May I call you Miss Jones?”

Is there any way to reverse this trend? It was bad enough being first-named by my physician (whose first name, so far as I could find out from his staff, is Doctor) and miscellaneous clerical personnel, who never gave me any name to call them by.

Now, even my bank’s ATM calls me by my first name. I find that ultimately demoralizing, being first-named by a mere machine. Can you recommend any countermeasures?

Gentle Reader: Even for Miss Manners, it’s hard to reason with voice mail or ATMs. But she has no problem politely requesting people whose companies use these machines, as well as doctors, clerks and other unauthorized would-be chums to address her formally.

Although offered as a gentle correction, this is no more rude than it is to suggest that someone addressing you formally - if there are any such people left - please you by using the forms of friendship. The only way to reverse that silly trend is for enough people to do this.

Judith Martin is the author of “Miss Manners on Painfully Proper Weddings” (Crown).

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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