DEAR MISS MANNERS: The sense of private space seems to have changed radically over the last several years. Everyone now seems so intent on texting, but there is still the person on public transportation who is yelling at his ex-wife about child support payments.
I don’t think all of us on the bus need to hear about this. But the presumption seems to be that we are politely to pretend we are not hearing this. Any intervention, suggesting this might be better dealt with in the privacy of one’s home, is treated with hostility.
Is pretending not to hear still the preferred mode?
GENTLE READER: Yes and no. Eavesdropping is indeed rude, but Miss Manners suggests that you recast your objection as a warning to someone in danger.
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And people who air their legal complaints or other delicate private business in public are in great danger. For all that caller knows, his ex-wife’s lawyer is two seats back on the bus, alerted to the opportunity to add a harassment charge to reopen the divorce settlement. Or the child in the aisle is a classmate of one of his children who may use the information for taunting.
You may therefore attempt to catch the caller’s eye, give him a sympathetic look and wave your hand to indicate all the people who may be listening to the conversation.
Mind you, Miss Manners still thinks it less trouble to move to the back of the bus. Or to get off, if the commotion occurs within reasonable distance of your stop.
Food for thought
DEAR MISS MANNERS: If a family is getting together at Thanksgiving, and one of the families attending has a 2-year-old with egg and peanut allergies, does the mom have the right to email everyone and tell them they cannot bring anything with eggs and/or peanuts to the function?
I could understand it if the parents of the child were hosting the party, but if someone else is hosting and they are just attending, does that parent have the right to change everyone’s plans?
GENTLE READER: The “right”? Does that mean that you are asserting a counter-right to risk making a toddler dangerously ill?
Miss Manners is generally in favor of those with special requirements making accommodations for themselves without demanding them of others. But when the mere proximity of something poses a threat, it is polite, as well as humane, to comply.
Everybody just share
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My older sister and I are always getting into fights. She always wants something of mine and I always want something of hers.
We’ve tried trading, but it doesn’t work. This apartment isn’t big enough for both of us. What can I do?
GENTLE READER: Grow up?
No, Miss Manners realizes that you are looking for a shorter-term solution that does not involve hair-pulling.
Trading, as you have discovered, only opens up new areas for disagreement: Is a dinosaur worth two balloons or three? Unlike business transactions, family relationships involve gestures that are not immediately reciprocated. If your sister wants something of yours, you might try setting an example by simply letting her play with it or borrow it. If she doesn’t keel over from shock, she might, with quiet reminders, learn to reciprocate.
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.
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