Advice Columns

Miss Manners: Can drivers be dictators, too?

Q: Regarding etiquette in a car, what are the extent and limits of the driver’s authority?

Does the driver decide where to go, as well as how to get there? Should he or she discuss each likely stop or detour? Should he or she yield to the passenger’s wishes regarding stops or detours?

The attitude of the driver to the passenger seems to be like a bride’s toward her attendants, though milder and potentially more consequential.

I’ve been on both sides of the console and have been shocked by my own unwillingness to consult the passenger about details of the trip that would certainly be discussed if we were on the train. There seems to be something special that arises when someone is “in the driver’s seat,” exacerbated, possibly, by the prevalence of solo commuters, whose car is their domain.

A: The phrase “in the driver’s seat” is not commonly understood to mandate consultation or even basic compassion. This is unfortunate.

That the driver has the power, either figuratively or literally, to swerve into oncoming traffic does not, to Miss Manners’ thinking, make doing so a good idea. The polite driver consults his guest’s reasonable comfort, whether that means clearing errands that will lengthen the trip or submitting to bathroom stops without argument or comment.

This is true even if the driver is bestowing a favor. The rider may “only be along for the ride,” but a driver’s authority stops short of the point at which a ride home feels like a kidnapping.

Q: What is an appropriate gift for second-year wives to give husbands? Just a card? Or should I get a special gift for him?

A: Is he special?

Miss Manners asks because you have had two years, plus courtship, to get to know the gentleman, and she has never had the privilege of meeting him. She therefore gently suggests that you are in a better position to know what would please him.

Q: I’ve been an executive assistant for a while now in Washington, D.C. My first job was for a small Catholic university; the second, with a prominent nonprofit organization that relies heavily on donors.

When processing expense reports, I often see large receipts for cab rides, and this drives me nuts. It’s not as if one can call getting to their normal work a “work expense.” I think that I am mostly bothered by this because donors are paying for these petty expenses. Am I out of line?

A: Your desire that donors’ money be well spent is admirable. But as you are not the boss, any attempt by you to unilaterally establish company policy is unlikely to be well-received.

Next time you are asked to process such an expense, Miss Manners recommends that you ask for a clear business policy to guide you. You will then be in a position to answer your own question.

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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