DEAR MISS MANNERS: If a lady is going quietly about her business and a man unknown to her intrudes on her thoughts with, “Hi, how are you today?” I’m sure you’d advise her to ignore him.
However, what response do you recommend if one is accosted not on a public street but in the aisle of one’s local supermarket – whose employees have undoubtedly been instructed to make these “friendly” overtures to customers?
The last time this occurred, I happened to be contemplating some unpleasant medical news I’d been given an hour earlier and had difficulty summoning a polite response. I don’t mind chatting with my favorite cashiers (those who haven’t yet been replaced by machines) as I check out, and I appreciate the managers who help me if I’m having trouble finding an item. The rest of the time, I’d rather be left in peace. What should I do?
GENTLE READER: Nod pleasantly. There is a significant difference between an attempt to make friends by strangers on the street and a conventional greeting from the employee of a store you have entered. Miss Manners is sorry about your bad medical news, but it does not allow you to snub a legitimate acknowledgment. Conversation is not necessary – you need merely to nod, say hello, before you speed down the aisle.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was at a party talking to the hostess and another couple. I complimented the hostess on her son’s good looks. The male of the couple called me a cougar. I ignored the remark, but I am upset about being called a cougar (this was not a compliment).
How could this have been handled at the party so I was not upset?
GENTLE READER: By smiling sweetly and saying, “I suppose if I’d admired a baby, you’d call me a child molester.”