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Miss Manners: Nanny is a guest and employee

Dear Miss Manners: Our baby’s nanny is beloved by all of us, and we’d like to invite her to be our guest at the first-birthday party. If she attends, should we pay her for her time and for carfare?

Gentle Reader: Absolutely.

No doubt your nanny loves the baby dearly and wouldn’t miss the party for the world. But hard as it may be for you, as parents, to imagine, she also has her own life and other ways to spend her free time.

Furthermore, she is not going to stand staring out the window if the baby needs something while you are not in immediate attendance. So there she would be, giving up her free time to work for free.

Miss Manners would consider the most gracious solution to be first merely to ask the nanny to be there and to pay her for that in advance or offer a compensatory day off, but then, at the event itself, to say, “I’m sure I can manage; please just consider yourself a guest and have a good time.”

Dear Miss Manners: Here in the United States, people just say “hello” when answering the telephone, and to me it’s very impolite not to say at least your first name.

It is also very confusing because I have to ask the person who has answered who it is. Some people in the same family can have very similar voices.

I am from Scandinavia, and there we answer with your full name, and some people even say their telephone number.

Is there a historic explanation? Privacy thing? Safety issue?

Gentle Reader: Actually, there is an historic reason. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was startled enough during the first test simply to shout to his assistant, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you!”

Although this remains the attitude of most callers, it is impolite to assume that others should be at your beck and telephone call.

Dr. Bell then thought better of it and suggested “Hoy, hoy,” but it was Thomas Edison who refined this by inventing the word “Hello.”

Miss Manners agrees that the current American social system, by which the caller then has to guess whom he has reached, is awkward. (The business system does require answering with the name of the person and/or business.

And sometimes using the telephone system’s identification system solves the problem, although people do make calls from telephones other than their own, and home lines usually serve more than one person.)

It results in such nonsensical floundering as:



“Oh, I’m trying to reach Tony. Is this his son? You sound just like him.”

“Who are you and what do you want?”

But it strikes Miss Manners as the responsibility of the caller, not the callee, to give an identification first, as is done in some countries. The callee could well cite a safety or privacy issue or simply could want to pretend he is someone else when he finds out who is calling.