DEAR MISS MANNERS: Having recently lost my job, I spend lots of time at home, and a lot of it on the phone with friends, family, etc. I consider myself lucky to have that large number of friends. However:
Gripe No. 1. I have given up my Call Waiting in order to cut my expenses, and it drives me crazy when everyone says, "Boy I can never reach you. Your phone is always busy."
Should I let this bother me? For years, when I had Call Waiting, these very same people never got a busy signal, while I got a busy signal whenever I called them. I feel it is rude of them to call my attention to my busy phone. Am I just being crabby?
Gripe No. 2. When people get my answering machine for various reasons when I cannot answer, they play guessing games, like "Are you screening your calls?" or "Are you in the bathroom?" or "Are you taking a nap?" or "I can't believe you are out of the house already." Why not just leave a message and be done with it? Am I getting annoyed for no reason?
GENTLE READER: No, you have a reason, but it is the same one for both gripes. It is that people are assuming that you have nothing better to do than to be at their beck and call, whenever they chose to call. Or, for that matter, to beck.
Miss Manners hastens to assure you that this has nothing to do with your being out of work. It has to do with the nature of the telephone itself, which is inherently rude because it interrupts people. People who got used to being able to barge in at any time resent the answering machine, because that returned control to the person being called. And when that rudest of devices, Call Waiting, came along, they welcomed the return of their power.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I like to think I'm a good guest. I respond promptly to all invitations, and I always make a point of greeting the party-giver(s) upon arriving. I circulate, try to talk to as many people as is politely possible and always say goodbye to the host(s) when I leave.
But sometimes I wind up at parties that are uncomfortably crowded, or are held in basement apartments with uncomfortably low ceilings. (I'm over 6 feet tall, so this is an issue.) Under such circumstances, how long should I stay -- 30 minutes? An hour? -- to keep up a sociable facade before ducking out politely, pleading another engagement (even if it's only with my own couch)?
GENTLE READER: By ducking out, Miss Manners trusts that you, being an exemplary guest, could not possibly mean slipping out the door while the host's back is turned. That would be unthinkable.
The polite thing to do is to threaten as much. You run up to the host when he is obviously engaged in talking to others and say, "I don't want to interrupt the party, but unfortunately, I have to tear myself away." Then you blubber about what a wonderful time you had, how you hate to leave, how you wouldn't dream of letting him see you out and so on -- all said heartily -- while you back up toward the door. The leave-taking should add only about five minutes to the half-hour minimum you must stay.