Q: More and more frequently, I see that when I am in line at the grocery store or anywhere waiting my turn to be checked out, other customers break in to get the clerk’s attention for themselves by asking questions or even inquiring about the clerk’s health.
They invade my space by crowding in to talk to the clerk while he/she is attending to me. Not only customers, but other employees want to talk to the clerk. Is there anything civil I can say that might cause these people to back off and wait their turn?
A: Before putting those people back in line, Miss Manners asks that you consider the context. There is no excuse for jumping ahead of 12 politely queued people. But some limited understanding can be extended to the shopper who finds that there are no salespeople elsewhere in the store, and signage or previously issued directions are incomplete or incorrect.
In other words, someone without reasonable recourse and with a question so simple that it can be answered by the clerk pointing, without slowing down the line. In such cases, a pained smile and a glance at your watch is sufficient.
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It is the clerk’s duty to deal with the customer who jumps in line to give a lengthy, angry review of the fallibility of the electronic device he wishes to return. You may prompt with a polite, “Excuse me, but I’ve been waiting patiently in line for 20 minutes.” A clerk who is incapable of handling this all-too-common occurrence should not be surprised to be reported to his or her superior.
Q: My husband’s sister is in her mid-30s and just moved back in with her parents. We were wondering if social protocol dictates whether we have to invite her to things that we’d normally invite only his parents to?
A: Without knowing what special family circumstances would make your sister-in-law unwelcome at events to which your in-laws are invited, she will observe that it is a kindness, though not strictly necessary, to invite any houseguest when inviting the homeowners.
This lessens with the length of the guest’s stay, but increases with the closeness of the guest-homeowner relationship. The host who is unwilling or unable to invite someone else’s houseguest is requested not to take umbrage if those invited are unable to attend because of duties to their houseguest.
Q: Is it acceptable, when leaving a dinner party, to take some of the food if the host offers?
A: Yes, provided the offer is spontaneous and not requested. However, Miss Manners realizes that if you do so, you will be back with a question of when and in what condition to return the containers.
Cleaning whatever you put the food in for the ride home is your responsibility, whether that involves a dishwasher or a dry cleaner. Returning any containers will depend on who brought them to the party and whether they are durable enough to have withstood being cleaned.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.