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Miss Manners: Please leave a message – that I’ll never listen to

Mon., June 15, 2009, midnight

DEAR MISS MANNERS: A few months ago, I needed to call my former wife on a matter of some importance (fortunately not an emergency) concerning our children. She was not home, so I left a message. She never called me back.

When she later learned of the situation, she reproached me for not contacting her, so I explained that I had left a message for her at home.

When she said breezily, “Oh, I never check messages on my home phone,” I was at a loss for words; not at the decision not to use the technology of voice mail – a decision which is hers to make – but because her recorded message says (exact quote), “This is Jane. I’d appreciate it if you would leave me a message.”

I pointed out that if she had no intention of listening to messages, she could do what our daughter did on her home phone and record the message, “We do not check this machine for messages, so please try our cell phones….”

Then, just last night, I was talking with a friend – of the “younger generation,” if that is relevant – who has been dating a young woman whose voice mailbox is always full, because she doesn’t listen to messages, either. I don’t know what her greeting is, but if one has no intention of listening to messages, should one not say so, saving one’s callers time and annoyance? I fully believe that the voice mailbox is mine to use, or not use, as I please, but to mislead callers by inviting them to leave a message I refuse to listen to seems, well, rude.

While Miss Manners’ Gentle Readers all understand that technology exists to serve us and not the other way ’round, and, similarly, that one cannot be rude to a machine, nonetheless we would be grateful for some guidance on how to interact with friends and relatives (who may possibly not be Gentle Readers) who have other ideas.

GENTLE READER: And it is not just ex-wives, as you have discovered. Many people have all but abandoned monitoring their home telephones.

But Miss Manners assures you that by the time you program in their cellular telephone numbers, they will have also given up listening to messages left there, on the grounds that this takes too long, and they only check text messages.

As an excuse, this does not play as well as the old lost-in-the-mail or service-was-down ones, since clearly missing such messages cannot be blamed on others. The least people can do, as you suggest, is to warn you.

But as you now know, there are people who do not do that least. Miss Manners is afraid you will have to get into the habit of asking, “What is the best way to reach you?”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When ordering at a restaurant, is it permissible to say, “I want …,” or “Give me …”?

I greatly prefer, “I would like” or “Please may I have the….” My son believes I am “hyper” about manners.

GENTLE READER: How fortunate, then, for him that he has you to bring him up. Miss Manners trusts that you also know better than to cede authority to someone whose object is to remove courtesy and recommend making bald demands.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.


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