DEAR MISS MANNERS: I just came from a meeting where I was absolutely aghast. I've been a part of many of this group's meetings, where about a dozen people sit in a circle in a member's home, but this time it was totally out of hand.
We had a guest speaker, an expert in many areas who has a slew of degrees and is capable of speaking on many issues. The group really likes him.
We've had guest speakers before, but I never realized how bad the group has become. People constantly jockeyed to dominate the conversation; they shouted; spoke two- and three- and four-at-a-time; spoke in shrill tones, screeching without taking a breath to prevent interruption; spoke 99 percent of the time on politics, recent history, ancient history, obscure trivia, but less than 1 percent related to the topics for which the group was formed (and which is one of the areas on which the speaker is an expert).
I tried to steer the conversation to a topic on which the speaker could comment, but he was drowned out by another person's diatribe. At one point, I noticed someone doing a crossword, another reading the paper for a while, and another cutting his toenails (being aided by his wife).
After two hours of sitting through this egocentricity, the speaker announced that he had another engagement. Shocked, the group wanted him to talk more, but he said he really had to go. The group members are like this all the time, and I think the speaker giving them two hours was more than being tolerant. What can be said to them? Have things degenerated like this everywhere?
GENTLE READER: Well, no, not everywhere, at least not to the extent you describe. Miss Manners believes that the wives of Members of Congress are not permitted on the floor to help clip their toenails while the house is in session.
Maybe she isn't paying close enough attention. Certainly she has seen all of the other behavior you mention. That example to the contrary, Miss Manners believes that your problem could be ameliorated by moving the chairs. Sitting in a circle encourages group discussion, which may often be desirable, but relegates an invited speaker to being an equal participant, with no larger a share of the conversation than anyone else. When there is a guest speaker, you should put two chairs at one end of the room facing the others, and a chairman with a gavel in the chair not occupied by the speaker. If that doesn't work, your group needs a sergeant-at-arms or a trip to a nail salon.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband is always quoting proper etiquette for table manners and drives my son crazy with the "no elbows on the table" reminders. My husband then proceeds to lay his whole arm on the table. I think this looks worse than an elbow. Does the rule book say anything about whole arms being on the table?
GENTLE READER: Sure, but is your husband's arm missing an elbow? If not, Miss Manners believes that he has already said it himself.