Q: I was taught to hold open doors for ladies, as well as allow ladies to enter and exit elevators before myself. But are there any guidelines for occasions when only gentlemen are present?
I have to admit to feeling a bit silly having a gentleman approach a door ahead of me, then open it and allow me to pass ahead of him. Also, I have been in situations where several gentlemen will all motion for the others to precede them into or out of an elevator, resulting in everyone looking at each other and waiting for someone to enter or leave first.
A: It is always polite to let someone else go first, but as Miss Manners realizes that after a certain point, comedy and irritation are unavoidable, she does have a few practical suggestions.
Do not repeat an offer to let someone else go first. Call this the Abbott and Costello Rule. This means that the last person to say “You first” is the last out.
Do not make the offer if acting on it is impractical — if, for example, you are standing at the front of the elevator at the midpoint of the door with 15 men behind you in the car. Call this the Marx Brothers “Night at the Opera” Rule.
If you really feel the need, you can always turn around after you exit and put your hand on the door to hold it for the next person. Miss Manners never objects to politeness, but if properly handled, exiting an elevator can be accomplished before the alarm sounds and the door closes on some unlucky rider (the Buster Keaton Scenario).
Q: While on vacation, it seemed every restaurant we ate at would wrap silverware while we were at dinner. The clatter of the silverware interrupted our conversation and atmosphere.
We said something to the silverware attendant at one place, and she said she would increase the volume of the television. What would Miss Manners have done?
A: If the attendant was being literal-minded in attempting to address your complaint, then Miss Manners would not order the “catch of the day” for fear of what the cook may think the term means. If the attendant was being sarcastic, Miss Manners would respond literally, clarifying politely that you were hoping to be relocated to a quieter table.
Q: My daughters-in-law host small parties and extend invitations to me through my daughter, saying to her: “Tell your dad he’s invited.” The in-laws have my phone number and are known to send texts.
Is it too much to expect a phone call or even a simple text directly from the hosts for such invitations? Do such indirect invitations reflect an insincere wish for my attendance, perhaps just for the sake of maintaining appearances?
A: Perhaps. Or perhaps they thought of you while inviting their sister-in-law and knew she would be speaking with you soon.
It is not too much to expect a direct invitation, but Miss Manners stops short of accusing anyone of rudeness. You cannot gauge the intentions of your daughters-in-law because they are not talking to you directly. And Miss Manners can neither testify to their sincerity nor convey your curiosity, as she does not know the ladies in question.
Someone has to bridge the gap, and your daughter is already conveniently located in the middle. Ask her to explain to her sisters-in-law that while you would love to attend their parties, you don’t feel right accepting a secondhand invitation.
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.