May 27, 2009 in Food

Rules of engagement still apply to shady casual acquaintances

Judith Martin
 

Dear Miss Manners: I live and work in a small, localized neighborhood within a large metropolitan city. My job is in retail, and I am paid handsomely to be friendly and courteous to people I would normally prefer not to associate with in my personal life.

Sometimes I pass these people on the sidewalk on my days off, and I understand that if we make eye contact, it is proper for me to acknowledge them with a smile and a nod.

What are my obligations to these people when they are wearing sunglasses and I really have no idea if they are seeing me or not?

Often I will smile and look at them in the eyes as best I can but usually end up feeling foolish and wishing I hadn’t when I realize they hadn’t even noticed me coming in the opposite direction. Being that I live in a large city, it is not unusual to pass hundreds of other people a day without any contact at all.

Am I just overly sensitive, or am I allowed to ignore these occasional customers with sunglasses on?

Gentle Reader: If there is a more minimal obligation to perform than a passing smile and a nod to an acquaintance, Miss Manners cannot think what it would be. And if there is a more baseless source of embarrassment than the supposed reaction of someone who didn’t even see oneself, what would that be?

Acknowledging someone’s existence is not an endorsement; failing to do so, unless it is clearly accidental, is an insult. Miss Manners suggests that you make the effort – or start wearing sunglasses.

Dear Miss Manners: I attended a pre-opera lecture before a production. The speaker was a college professor expert in the composer’s life and the work to be performed.

A crowd of about 600 was in the auditorium, so the speaker was using a microphone. As he began, a woman several rows behind me began shouting that she couldn’t hear. She kept this up regularly throughout the talk with the result that none of us could easily hear anything but her. The speaker chose to ignore her after he had pointed out that he was doing his best to make himself heard.

I was unsure what to do, and simply sat and tried to make the best of it. Thinking of it now, I feel perhaps I should have asked the head usher to attempt to quiet the woman by moving her closer to the loudspeakers. Could you please let me know if that would be acceptable?

Gentle Reader: Certainly, but Miss Manners begs you to think of it – and to phrase it – as assisting the lady, rather than shutting her up.

In fact, the first people in an audience who call out “We can’t hear” are doing a service. The lecturer needs to know that and to adjust. It was the repetition by someone who apparently was the only person with difficulty that made it annoying.

So yes, by all means, you should have attempted to help the lady – and the rest of the audience, whose problem of hearing she was causing – as long as you did it politely.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@ unitedmedia.com.


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