DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband makes comments to sales clerks, waitresses, etc., that I think are unpleasant jabs to make them uncomfortable. He says he's "just joking," and I'm being neurotic and spoiling his fun.
If a salesgirl says, "This is at a special price today," he'll say, "Oh, will it be cheaper tomorrow?" If a waiter recommends a dish, he'll reply, "But you've never had it, have you?" The response he usually gets is an awkward silence.
The other night, our waitress said, "My name is Brandy," and when a dinner guest said, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that," she said, "Brandy -- you know, like the alcohol." My husband said, "Oh, well, I'll have some liquor."
Our 15-year-old daughter became visibly upset at what she called his flirtatious behavior. She said he was being rude to me. I said he wasn't flirting, but embarrassing the waitress. He got angry at both of us, and he told us we were being ridiculous, and that he was "just joking."
I realize the sales people, etc., haven't heard these things before, and that I'm angry because I hear them repeatedly. I think it's mean-spirited to put people off balance. Please answer this -- he obviously doesn't care about upsetting me or his daughter. Should we just try to go along with all of it, or does our discomfort have any validity?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is afraid that she must break it to you that you are operating from two mistaken premises:
1. That the waitresses, sales clerks and such have not heard these remarks before. Of course they have. Their silence means that they are too weary to reply once again.
2. That someone who is under the impression that rote jokes are witty and is unmoved at upsetting his wife and daughter is ever going to stop unless he goes too far and an offended waitress belts him. Maybe not even then, as he will only complain that she has no sense of humor.
Miss Manners is sorry to have to acknowledge that your choice is therefore to ignore what he does or to ignore his dinner invitations. She hopes it helps to know that yes indeed, your discomfort has validity; Miss Manners finds the gentleman tiresome, and she hasn't even met him.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A new tenant recently moved into the apartment below mine and has hung a set of wind chimes outside. The chimes are high-pitched and echo annoyingly. They are driving me crazy! Are there any etiquette rules on the chimes? How can I tell her the constant ringing in my ears is driving me batty without causing tension with someone I see on a weekly, if not daily, basis?
GENTLE READER: You could try this: "There's a peculiar noise in this area, and I wonder if it's bothering you, too. Strangest thing -- high-pitched, with an echo. I hear it every time I open my windows, and can't imagine what it could be."
No? Miss Manners doesn't think so, either. There is no reason one neighbor can't register such a trivial problem with another, provided that it is done in an apologetic, rather than an accusatory way. "I'm sorry but I'm afraid I find your chimes distracting" rather than "Those stupid things are driving me crazy."