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Miss Manners: When confronting hate, consider both etiquette and safety

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am well aware of the rules of not interfering in conversations overheard in restaurants, and that there is an assumed “bubble” of privacy for those engaged in private conversation.

However, I found myself in an awkward position while I ate in a booth that backed up to another booth. Four people were speaking in foul, hateful language about Jews and African-Americans, with a few anti-Muslim remarks thrown in for good measure. Aside from being shocked that people would feel free to speak like that in a public place, albeit at their own table, I couldn’t believe that they even thought that what they were saying was remotely accurate. It was like listening to Nazi propaganda come to life. I cannot overstate the hate exuding from their mouths.

They were not being loud, belligerent or bellicose, and were polite to their server, a person of color. I said nothing.

Was that the right thing to do? I really wanted to stand up, go to their table and tell them I could hear them spewing their hate in foul language, and that they may want to rethink their choice of words in a location where it was easy to overhear and where the objects of their hate may be present. I am Jewish. Is being silent in this type of situation the same as being complicit?

GENTLE READER: While normally Miss Manners would find relief in the fact that these awful people were at least outwardly polite, it does complicate the infraction.

Unfortunately, we live in volatile times, and Miss Manners finds herself further cautioning you against admonishing these people in public for fear of retaliation, or of inciting an angry invocation of various amendments. If you feel that it is safe, you might approach them and say, “I am sure that you are not aware that others can hear you” and leave it at that – and then consult the restaurant management if the situation escalates.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: A question about thank-you note etiquette is tearing my family apart.

I received a notification that a gift would be coming in the mail by someone who was not the sender of the gift. I had my thank-you note written and ready to send out as soon as I received said gift, because I didn’t want to feel like my thank-you note was insincere or that I was entitled to the gift by sending the thank-you early.

The family member who sent the gift is now incredibly upset with me, because apparently I should have sent the note as soon as I was notified that the gift would be coming, even though the notification was not from them.

GENTLE READER: Even Miss Manners, a fastidiously prompt sender of thank-you letters, would not require someone to write one before the present had been received. Please tell your family to pull themselves together and slow their enthusiasm – lest they similarly start cashing checks before they are sent.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.


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