May 4, 2011 in Features

Nicely saying ‘no’ to favor is allowed

Judith Martin
 
On the Web

Visit Miss Manners at www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

DEAR MISS MANNERS – I was at a coffee shop today, and I was happy to get one of the “comfy” chairs, where I could relax and enjoy my coffee and book.

After a little while, a woman approached me and asked if she could have my seat.

She explained that she needed to use her laptop computer, and the chair that I was in was the only seat close to an electrical outlet not already in use by other customers with laptops.

I was a bit taken aback by her request, since it would mean moving from the comfy chair to a far less comfortable table.

When I expressed reluctance to move, she said that since I obviously didn’t need the electrical outlet, she thought she should have priority.

She was polite, yet her request in itself struck me as inappropriate and rude.

Not wanting to be rude myself, and because I’d been planning to leave the coffee shop soon anyway, I said she could have the seat, and I left. However, I was a bit irritated. What is the etiquette here?

GENTLE READER – There doesn’t seem to have been much of it.

Although you say that this was a request made politely, it strikes Miss Manners as verging on a demand, and you acceded because you were feeling cowed, not obliging.

The entire concept of asking and considering a favor seems to have been forgotten – not just in this instance, but in general.

Instead, people go around demanding what they consider to be their rights of those who feel that their only choices are to yield or to fight.

Suppose the lady had said, “Excuse me, please, but I wonder if there is some way I could get to that plug that you are not using?”

You might have felt inclined to say, “Sure, I’ll move,” but that was not your only polite option.

You could also have said, “I’ll be leaving soon” or “It’s this chair I like – perhaps we could move it.”

You also could have politely refused: “I especially like this kind of chair. There might be another plug around somewhere, but if you see another of this kind of chair free, I’ll be glad to change.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS – I live in a high-rise condo building where about half of the residents speak Spanish in their homes.

This week I entered the exercise room to work out.

The only other person there working out was one of my neighbors, who I did not know, who had the TV tuned to a Spanish language station.

Would I be justified in asking her to switch to an English-language station; in insisting on such a change by changing the station myself?

GENTLE READER – Assuming that you don’t mind alienating a neighbor, and probably a minimum of half of your fellow residents when word gets around, on what grounds would you make such a demand?

By Miss Manners’ count, half of the occupants of that room wanted the Spanish station, and what is more, that half was there first.

Judith Martin is the author of “Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding.”


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