Advice Columns

Start your requests with ‘I’m sorry, but ’

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Last week my family and I attended a concert at an outdoor venue — the kind of place where you dress casually and set up your beach chairs or blankets on a grassy area in front of the stage. Sitting near us were three young adults on a blanket. They talked through the entire concert, and I could hear their conversation over the music. I said nothing at first, thinking they would eventually quiet down and listen to the band play. But after about 10 songs, I couldn’t take it anymore. I approached the young lady who was the loudest of the group, knelt down so I was face-to-face with her, and said, “I can hear you over the music. Please keep your voice down.” She said yes, I thanked her and returned to my seat. I did not yell or use foul language, nor did I use a nasty tone, though my voice was firm.
At the end of the concert, the young lady came to me and apologized profusely for her behavior. Specifically she said, “While your style of communication could use some improvement, I am truly sorry we ruined your concert experience.” This comment was followed by more apologies from her. I managed to choke out something resembling “apology accepted, no more worries, safe ride home, blah, blah, blah,” but in truth I was startled by her comment about my communication style. Yes, this was a casual outdoor event. We weren’t in a concert hall. Some talking and movement were allowed, even acceptable. But it was still a concert. People paid good money to hear a favorite band perform. What did she expect me to do? I did not yell at her. I said “please” and “thank you.” And given that I had to speak over a rock band’s performance, I could hardly whisper my request to her. GENTLE READER:

Galling as it may be, requests such as these are properly made in an apologetic manner: “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that we can hear you over the music.” The idea is supposed to be that you know that the rudeness was unintentional and are assuming that the offender would wish to know its effect.

Miss Manners did not quite pick up that face-saving approach from your report. She gathers that the young lady was trying to supply that herself, by returning the criticism.

This was not quite nice, but still, she did quiet down and she did apologize. Let’s call that problem solved.

Keep carrying that hankie DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a child and young man, I was advised by my late mother that a gentleman should always carry a handkerchief, which I continue to do to this day, in my 60s. A good friend of mine, a distinguished young man in the community, scoffs at such a notion and says no one does that anymore.
I fear he might be right. I often see male dining companions blowing their noses on restaurant napkins and leaving them for restaurant staff to attend. Having waited on tables in my youth, I find this disgusting. Perhaps you have some kind advice about the use or non-use of handkerchiefs in modern times. GENTLE READER:

Carry them, use them, and leave the napkins alone. Presumably, your young adviser was referring to the use of paper tissues, and not cloth napkins, in place of handkerchiefs. Still, he is less of an authority on modern etiquette than your late mother remains.

© Universal Uclick 7/26