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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Miss Manners 4/16

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My classical guitar society meets online now, which is nice because we now have people involved who live around the world.

It’s not so nice, however, when one of our participants performs from his bedroom, where we get to see his unmade bed, the dresser drawers partially open, and this week, a pair of used underwear.

I know I should only focus on his music, which is lovely, and that I should accept him as he is – but used underwear? Very difficult to ignore. He’s not disheveled in person; he is always well groomed and wears clean clothes.

Should I just get over myself and try to ignore his background, or is there a delicate way I can tell him to straighten up his room?

GENTLE READER: A lost art, which especially needs to be revived in just such situations, is Pretending Not to Notice.

It is true that one should try to be what is called “presentable,” whatever that means in a particular context. But a bit of leeway is necessary. If your house is on fire, it is all right for you to run out wearing your pajamas. If you are just going out to get your mail, perhaps you should add a bathrobe. It is incumbent on passersby, however, to pretend not to notice.

If someone has a pimple on their nose, or any other physical irregularity, those who are not intimately involved must pretend not to notice. And that also goes for physical regularities – such as being tall or short, fat or thin – which people can’t seem to stop commenting upon.

There are countless other situations in which everyone would be happier if the obvious is not mentioned. And now we have a new one: the background during video-visiting. It has become a sport to evaluate other people’s houses, as glimpsed when they are online for business as well as social reasons.

Please, Miss Manners begs you to stop. Listen to the music and pretend you do not notice the background.

The necessity of being at home during the pandemic has forced people to invite in those who might never otherwise see their homes, let alone their bedrooms, kitchens or wherever they have had to improvise a home office. Yes, it would be nice if they presented an attractive stage set. Or if they knew about virtual backgrounds, where you can have any magnificent setting you want, if you don’t mind your head briefly disappearing when you move.

But the viewer also has a responsibility – not to notice.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I speak to people by phone, they talk over me and interrupt me. I feel like it is a one-sided discussion.

With one friend, I had to send her a five-page letter to let her know how she had upset me by discussing a sensitive and charged family situation.

GENTLE READER: Until you mentioned the five-page letter, Miss Manners was totally sympathetic. Whether your friend was pontificating about your family problems or talking nonstop about her own, doing all the talking kills a conversation.

But your taking five pages to say that does plant the idea that perhaps you are not entirely guiltless. And it isn’t just that one person who interrupts, but apparently everyone.

Is it possible that they are the ones who would never get to talk unless they interrupted you? If not, Miss Manners apologizes and suggests that you learn to say, “Let me just finish, please, and then I’d like to hear what you think.”

Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website

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