DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I have been in waiting rooms or similar settings and another person sitting next to me begins a conversation, I will acknowledge them and respond. However, there have been times when the other person will become negative and make comments that I consider inappropriate or offensive to others, whether or not those others are there.
For instance, a lady sitting near me one day last week began complaining about people who do not speak English, and saying, “Don’t you agree?” The next day, a man sitting next to me was saying that all young persons are lazy and expect a handout.
People have picked me out in a group as someone who wants to hear their opinions on politics, religion and just about everything else. Please tell me how I can politely get out of being drawn into these negative diatribes.
GENTLE READER: By not speaking to strangers, as you were once taught. They sometimes say strange things.
Rebuffing a talker in a waiting room or on an airplane cannot be as harsh as, for example, reacting to a stranger who has made an invitation to you on the street. In that case, Miss Manners advises walking away, if not calling the police.
But chatting with people in a confined situation such as a waiting room or airplane is optional. You can break in when the conversation turns unpleasant, or even tedious, by the same method for heading it off entirely: “Forgive me, but I can’t talk right now.”