DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I travel alone on an airplane, all I want to do is to sit quietly and read a book or a magazine, fill out a crossword puzzle, or do some other such quiet, solitary activity. However, I often find myself seated next to someone who wishes to engage me in a lengthy conversation.
People like this will inquire about my origin, my occupation, my love life, whether I am traveling for business or pleasure, or they relate to me their entire life histories. Once I sat next to a lady who, spontaneously and entirely unencouraged by me, proceeded to describe to me at length the entire course of her amateur ballroom dancing career.
Being on a plane, I am, of course, trapped in these exchanges, perhaps for an hour or two at a time. Is there anything I can do, politely, to fend off these unwanted conversational advances? I may seem antisocial, but I don't wish to be rude.
Some of my friends have suggested that I pretend to sleep or wear earphones and pretend to listen to music, but I would prefer to be left in peace and quiet without having to resort to such stratagems.
GENTLE READER: Although Miss Manners sides with the victims of prying and hounding strangers, she begs you to remember that conversation among long-distance passengers was a great boon to travelers back when trips took even longer than airport delays. It was understood that the requirement for introductions was suspended so that people could be helpful and entertaining to one another.
This is no longer necessary. If people want to pour confidences and extract confessions from total strangers, they can go on the Internet. The polite way to discourage those who are not discouraged by vague looks and short answers is to say pleasantly, "Forgive me, I'm just not up to conversation now."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I just became engaged, and my dear fiance very generously gave me a beautiful engagement ring. It is not a diamond ring; it is a sapphire. I love it, and intend to wear it every day until we are married.
Must I now stop wearing all my jewelry that contains other colored stones? I understand that there is a rule against diamonds before dusk, but that the rule does not apply to engagement rings. Is it too much to hope for that the ban on mixing colored gemstones might also be lifted when one of the stones is on an engagement ring?
If you tell me it is improper still, I will be disappointed, but I will of course limit myself to gold and silver jewelry and be grateful that the remainder has been retired for such a happy reason.
GENTLE READER: Fortunately, all engagement (and wedding) rings are exempted from the ban. Miss Manners isn't thinking that it is fortunate for you, nearly as much as that it is fortunate for her professional integrity. She is so pleased with the attitude and tone of your letter that if it weren't, she would have been severely tempted to say, "Oh, go ahead, on you, it would be charming, you couldn't possibly do anything wrong."