DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter and I share a severe strolling musicians phobia. I hope you can help us learn to cope with this problem gracefully.
When dining out and a strolling mariachi band inflicts themselves upon us in mid-meal, what on earth is the proper etiquette for our response? They make us very uncomfortable, and we don't know whether to stop eating until they leave our table, letting our food get cold and soggy, or to continue eating, which seems extremely rude.
Do we make eye contact and smile or attempt to continue with our private conversations? Do we tip each of them or just the singer? Also, if you tip them, will they go away or will that just encourage them to stay and play longer?
We've tried it both ways and sometimes they seem to be determined to play until you tip them, and at other times when we tip them, they want to play longer to give us our money's worth. As you can see, this can be a very delicate matter.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners seems to recall an indelicate song on the subject by Mr. Tom Leherer. She feels it relieves her from any temptation to treat the subject with levity.
You could select a cuisine from a music-hating culture, of course. Or a restaurant whose musicians are sensitive enough to understand that a small shake of the head, accompanied by a regretful smile, means, "Thank you, but we came here to talk."
Otherwise, your best chance is not to tip the musicians but to tip the person in charge of the dining room with the instruction, "My daughter and I wish to be left alone, so please see to it that the band doesn't approach us."
Miss Manners trusts that this person's stares, occasioned by his concluding either that this is not your daughter, or that you have come here to attempt to talk her out of marrying the town drunk, will bother you less than the music.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a food server in a very busy specialty room restaurant, which is a very good job, and I feel as though my co-workers and I are professionals. At the end of a particularly busy eight-hour shift (with no break), I approached a table of four people, made my usual introduction and apprised them of the special of the day.
At this point, one of the men at the table looked at me and said, "Boy, you look bad."
I looked directly at him and responded to this with a frosty "Excuse me?"
He repeated himself as if it were his right to comment on my appearance. His wife turned to him, and it was then that it must have dawned on him the implication of his statement. He tried to atone by saying, "Oh, I meant you look tired." By then the damage was done and I excused myself from the table and asked another server to wait on them.
Miss Manners, I am performing a service for these people. Granted, it is not ministering to their health or spiritual needs, but my job is to treat people with respect and courtesy, and I don't feel that because I am serving food anyone has the right to not treat me with the same regard. Did I overreact?
GENTLE READER: Yes, you have the right to be treated with respect, and, yes, you overreacted.
Miss Manners grants all your objections and one you may not have counted. "You look bad" is an unfortunate choice of words, implying that there is something wrong with your appearance. But "You look tired" is, well, tiresome. People who felt fine before being asked have been known to droop afterwards.
But clearly the intent here was to express sympathy for you on an admittedly busy day. Tired or not, it was your job to issue the professional, noncommittal tight smile that says, "Whatever you say, sir. I'm not ignoring you, but I'm not really listening, either."