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Miss Manners: If I’m everybody’s emergency contact, then who’s mine?

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin Andrews McMeel Syndication

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I started a new job, and they want me to fill out an emergency contact form. But I am in a nuclear family with a bunch of people who can’t even help themselves. My friends have their own problems.

I always chuckle when I have to fill out this sort of form, because I’m usually the one who helps everyone else. Who on earth am I supposed to pick for an emergency contact for me?!

GENTLE READER: Not being able to serve as your emergency contact herself – and not knowing your friends or relatives – Miss Manners cannot solve your immediate problem.

But she does have thoughts about the larger question of how such requests – which are now made not just by preschools and employers, but also by social clubs, alarm system companies, gyms and even the occasional website – are to be treated.

She appreciates the implication that, in an emergency, the form-holder has either the desire or the ability to contact someone on your behalf. She hopes that reflects the reality more than had the box been labeled “next of kin.”

With some exceptions, most such requests require only someone who, if unable to handle the emergency, will take responsibility for finding someone who will. A more stringent standard should be applied to such requests from medical practitioners, whose definition of an emergency may require someone in whose judgment you have greater trust.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a left-handed student, and wanted to ask about seating arrangements. Perhaps you can answer this for people in college.

In a seminar class, we use the small desks with tops that attach to the right side of the chair. There are usually a few “left-handed” desks with the writing surface on the opposite side.

However, in my last class, I realized I’d taken the only such desk because I’d arrived early. Is it proper for me to stay in that seat, or offer to alternate seats with the other left-handed students on different class days? It’s difficult to take notes when the writing surface is on the “wrong” side.

Alternately, since there are no people with disabilities in the class, would it be wrong for one of us to take the classroom’s one table designated for that use and use it until (and if) the classroom gets more left-handed desks?

GENTLE READER: That you have not pleaded your left-handedness as a medical condition – or worse, a disability – pleases Miss Manners. Your failure to do so does not diminish the reasonableness of asking the school for some accommodation on the grounds of being a recurring customer.

But it avoids the moral indignation that too often accompanies the realization that you will have to speak with the professor to work out a solution. Any and all of your suggestions should be discussed and implemented, even if Miss Manners is perplexed to hear of a student taking notes by hand instead of on a laptop.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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