DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a female student, and most of my friends happen to be male classmates. Occasionally, when I go out for dinner with one of them, the waiter will apparently assume that we're dating and chide my friend for letting me pay my share as we're dividing up the bill.
We normally just turn a little bit red and ignore it, but is there any better way to handle it? These waiters never say specifically that they think we're dating, so we can't refute that -- and, frankly, I generally pay my own way when I'm out with my boyfriend anyway.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is surprised to hear that those waiters are still active. They got such a workout in the 1970s, thwarting businesswomen by chastising their clients and employees for not treating them to lunch, that she would have thought them driven into retirement by exhaustion.
Even though your response was prompted by embarrassment, ignoring this intrusiveness was the right thing to do.
You probably wouldn't tolerate questions and suggestions about your personal relationships and spending habits from your parents, so why should you attempt to justify yourself to your waiter?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A class of 30 high school students is being instructed by a teacher in the school library where I work. The room is quite large so it is possible for others to be in the library at the same time as a class. Two other teachers were loudly socializing in the front of the library, and were joking and laughing so loudly that the teacher across the room had to shout to have his students hear him.
While I used all the body language I could to try to get a message across to the loud teachers, who were oblivious, I was at a loss as to what to say. If it were students, this would not be a problem, but with other teachers, I could hardly say "Be quiet! Can't you see a class is in session?"
Is there a polite, nonconfrontational way to tell people who should know better how to be quiet in a library or other place where loud talking of adults interferes with the rights of young students (who would never be allowed to behave this way)?
This problem occurs in many other situations where children and adults share the same space and children are expected to behave in a certain fashion, but adults ignore the rules. Many teachers just get stressed for lack of an appropriate thing to say.
GENTLE READER: Is it possible that with so many libraries turning into classrooms and activity centers, library science no longer includes rigorous training in the gentle art of shushing?
Now, more than ever, the ability to quiet people down without riling them up is a skill that everyone needs. The sticking point, Miss Manners observes, is just the one you identify -- a reluctance to correct adults, perhaps because it is rude, and perhaps because they might be bigger or more menacing than oneself.
What you could have done was alert them to a situation you know they must have overlooked -- the presence of the class, the way their voices carried -- because, being polite people, they would never have been disruptive on purpose.
This is done by flashing them a regretful and sympathetic little smile, while tilting your head toward the class and humorously laying your finger across your lips. If this fails to shut them up, to put it as bluntly as one should not, you should say, "I'm sorry, but would you please talk elsewhere?"
And by the way, authority over children should not be invoked to treat them any less politely.