DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have noticed a trend in casual customer service workers’ way of speaking. As I’m checking out at the grocery store, the bank or the pizza restaurant, many workers ask, “What are you doing the rest of today?” or “What are you up to today?”
While I’m all for friendly chat, I find this question odd, invasive and a bit rude. I hardly believe that they care about my daily, tedious comings and goings, so really the question is insincere. What is the most kind, polite way to respond?
GENTLE READER: No, they don’t have a sincere interest in your plans, any more than you have in theirs. They were instructed to make conversation with the customers, and may even have been told to ask that exact question.
The idea is supposed to be that it makes the store seem welcoming. But a uniform question does not allow for the fact that not everyone doing errands wants to chat. Some do, sometimes – and others, never. Miss Manners enjoys this when on vacation (with the fun of speaking a foreign language), but not always at home, when she is more likely to be in a hurry.
Clerks should be allowed to judge whether an individual seems amenable. Sometimes a pleasant “Hello” is all that is required.
But if it would be useful for them to have a standard opening, personal questions from a stranger will not do. We call those nosy. So, by the way, is commenting on the customer’s groceries, as in, “I see you like beer and chocolate.” Or on the withdrawal, as in, “Making a big purchase?”
That is why we have the weather, the traffic and the weekend game to lament. But not the election.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: How do I uninvite guests who are no longer welcome due to their child’s behavior after the guest list was sent out?
I have been polite and direct, telling them that they’re not obligated to come to the event. After several phone calls and text messages, they still ask me, “What do you mean by that?” and “Can you explain what you are stating?”
GENTLE READER: As you were being neither polite nor direct, Miss Manners is not surprised that these people were confused. Or perhaps they just cannot believe that you would do something so rude as to rescind an invitation they have accepted.
How bad where those children? If you really cannot take them one more time, giving only adult parties in the future, you could say, “This is really not a safe environment for the children” – and indeed it is not, considering how you feel about them – “but we’re looking forward to seeing the two of you.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I know that the fork goes on the left of the plate and the knife on the right. But what if there is no knife? May I put the fork on the right, since I will presumably be using it with my right hand?
GENTLE READER: No. Whatever energy you would save by not having to reach to the left is not worth overturning established eating rituals, confounding your host or waiter, and disappointing Miss Manners.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.
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