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Miss Manners: Make sure you have your co-workers’ attention before monologuing

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

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How should I respond to co-workers who wear earbuds?

I start talking to them without realizing they have these gadgets plugged into their ears. They miss half of what I am saying, and then I have to repeat myself. I find this very frustrating.

GENTLE READER: These co-workers should convey a signal (pointing to their ears, half-embarrassed, half-apologetic) so that unsuspecting conversationalists are forewarned.

In lieu of that, Miss Manners suggests that you make up your own system of sign language as you approach them (one arm outstretched in questioning mode, one finger pointing to your mouth) so that you are not continually forced to repeat yourself. It would also not be remiss for you to start going to someone else with any important issues, so as to discourage any non-work-related earbud activity.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m a freelance singer/stage director and music activist. I also do some voice coaching. People will introduce me as “a voice teacher,” or even worse, as “a music teacher.” How can I avoid these embarrassing situations without seeming ungracious? Should I just tell them in advance what to say? Seems kind of egotistical!

GENTLE READER: Your accurate title is quite a mouthful – and Miss Manners confesses that she is not entirely sure of its meaning. Others, no doubt, feel similarly. That you find the title of “music/vocal teacher” to be embarrassing is ungracious, but not for the reasons you state. Miss Manners suggest that you come up with a succinct way of describing your professions that satisfies you. But she permits you no more than three words to do so.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. In addition to his life-threatening situation, we are dealing with an etiquette dilemma.

A woman from our church keeps bringing us casseroles, which are always very large and very terrible. None of us can eat them, so we end up throwing them out.

The problem is, this lady thinks of herself as a good cook and always asks how we liked her casseroles.

I don’t want to hurt her feelings, and have told her how nice she is to bring them (true). I have finally settled on saying, “There’s nothing like a good home-cooked meal.”

But what I really want is for her to stop bringing them. This is not a close friend, just a casual acquaintance, and I don’t know why she has made our family the focus of her charitable contributions. But she is adding stress to our already stressful situation. Is there any nice way to discourage her?

GENTLE READER: “You are so thoughtful to cook for us, but Herbert has such a limited appetite. Since it is only the two of us, I’m afraid we are still eating the previous casseroles you so kindly made for us.” While Miss Manners fears that this may not discourage the woman completely, with any luck, it will at least temporarily delay her production.

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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