DEAR MISS MANNERS: What are the rules of etiquette in the little coffee shops that are usually found in one of the large bookstores? Are they libraries, or are they restaurants?
While huddled over a technical manual at one of these stores, I usually get distracted by the screaming children, chatty customers and incessant cell-phone conversations. Usually, when I do feel disturbed, I try to throw dirty looks at the culprits, which are usually ignored. I am forced to leave my seat and find a quieter place within the store.
Will it be disrespectful of me to ask them to "zip-up"?
What about the area outside the coffee shop, where the books are kept? Are those areas also considered libraries, or are they considered malls where customers can bring in children that haven't been taught to keep quiet? There are specially marked "kids sections," which are cleverly placed far enough from the general seating areas so as not to disturb the adult patrons.
GENTLE READER: If they were libraries, people should be throwing you dirty looks for drinking coffee, and perhaps also for eating.
If they were restaurants, you should expect people to be lively.
If they were malls, you would be arrested for walking out of the bookstore without paying for the books.
These bookstore-cafes are a hybrid, allowing comfortable browsing along with shopping and socializing. No doubt people who can concentrate anywhere get a lot of free reading done, but this is not supposed to cancel the other activities. Should you want to study intensively, Miss Manners imagines that the bookstore might even be willing to sell you the book.
Having disposed of your similes, Miss Manners gets to examine the actual conflicts involved and make up new rules.
Chatting is improper in libraries, no matter how laxly the rule has been treated in recent years. It is, however, proper in both bookstores and cafes. Allowing children to scream freely rather than being hauled off and lectured is not proper any place where innocent people (as opposed to parents) are forced to listen. The same goes for screaming into cellular telephones, although they may be used with a normal tone of voice in stores and informal eating places.
However, telling people to "zip up" is never proper unless they are exposing themselves.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We recently moved into our first home and would like to become acquainted with our neighbors. I find myself sighing over passages in Austen novels, in which neighbors called on new arrivals, making it clear who wanted to be known to whom.
What are the expected social forms these days? Do they vary with the setting? During my years of apartment-living in New York, people scurried away if I said so much as "good morning," so I quickly learned to keep to myself. Now that we are living in a smaller town, our neighbors seem more open to social interaction.
We have introduced ourselves to our neighbors on either side, and have had each over for tea. A friendly couple across the street introduced themselves as "Bob and Mary," leaving me unable to address them properly by invitation, or look up their phone number, etc. Should I simply drop a note into their mailbox addressed to "Bob and Mary"? I don't want to be a pest, but I think their manner of introduction was simply out of habit, rather than out of a disinclination to know us.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners has encountered some deviously snippy types through Miss Austen, but none who would snub their new neighbors by pretending to be friendly while withholding their surnames. Even if they wanted to hide, you know where they live.
She therefore concludes that Bob and Mary, like your other neighbors, have the intention of being neighborly without the manners that would instruct them how to do it.
You are kind to make up for this lack by calling on them, when they should have called on you. By all means, leave a note for "Bob and Mary," addressed "To our kind neighbors," and enclosing an apology for not using their full names because you did not quite catch them.