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Delay Can Be Ok But Staring Is Creepy

Judith Martin United Features Sy

Dear Miss Manners: Is it proper, improper, or neither to hold an elevator for your spouse or companion who isn’t there yet, thus detaining others on board?

If the delay is running on, say 15 to 20 seconds and you’re still calling them, is it appropriate for one of the detainees to say something? Could you? What would you say?

Am I committing an act of rudeness if I briefly hold you up, or are you overreacting if you suggest I get the next elevator (you invariably have a bus, taxi or plane to catch) so you can get going?

Is it proper, improper, or neither to fixate visually on others in an elevator? If something about you intrigues me (good, bad or indifferent, not necessarily sexual in nature, just general curiosity), is it OK if I position myself to look at you directly the whole time?

If you are standing against the back wall and I stand against a side wall so I can look at you more freely, is this more rude than if I was standing next to you and turned to look? If you look back and ask me what I am staring at, how should I respond?

Gentle Reader: Just use the stairs, please.

Miss Manners was all right with the problem of how long one can hold an elevator, although she disagrees with your implication that it is overly fussy to object to being forced to wait.

It is not just a matter of weighing a short inconvenience to the passengers against a possibly long delay for one’s companion: The companion is the one who is tardy, and there is no way of knowing how serious the delay might be for others. Therefore, except in hardship cases, one shouldn’t hold an elevator for someone who is more than a few steps away. Miss Manners would have no trouble asking politely, “Do you mind if we go ahead? I’m afraid I’m in a hurry.”

At least the question is a proper one. But staring at people in elevators isn’t just improper; it’s creepy.

Staring is always rude, and staring at strangers particularly so - anywhere. But in elevators, where people are trapped, at least briefly, in a confined space, they must create the fiction that they are too absorbed in thought to have any interest in any fellow passengers they don’t recognize. The convention of facing the door and looking at one another’s backs - or up at the lights indicating floors - is so well-known that the violation of it seriously alarms people.

Miss Manners will leave you with the warning not to stare and the advice that if you do so and are challenged, you should apologize, as if your eyes had merely rested on someone by accident. When you got to the phrase “not necessarily sexual in nature,” she pushed the button for the next floor and fled.

Dear Miss Manners: At a baby shower for my sister-in-law in her parents’ very expensive and beautifully decorated home, I went to the restroom when my sister-in-law was in the middle of opening all of her gifts. Only after I finished did I notice there was no toilet paper.

Being from out of town, I knew no one there except my sister-in-law. Should I have yelled through the house for someone to bring me some, or should I have made my 400-mile drive home damp?

Gentle reader: Really? How many more times will it happen before you catch on and start carrying tissues?

Miss Manners does fully support your position that providing this amenity is the responsibility of the hosts.

Still, one does the best one can in an emergency. This one would have justified your calling out your sister-in-law’s name or your hostess’ - just the name, not a full disclosure of distress, such as “There’s no toilet paper!” When one of them came within discreet hearing distance of the bathroom door, you could then quietly ask to have a roll of paper handed in to you.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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