DEAR MISS MANNERS: I would like to know if there is a proper way to ask guests (overnight or otherwise) to leave if they have done nothing wrong other than stay too long. It isn't that we don't enjoy their company, but some of our friends don't realize when they should let us go to sleep. What would you suggest?
GENTLE READER: For dinner guests: "It was such fun having you. We hope to see you again very soon."
For houseguests: "Well, good night."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am one of three on-site female employees in an almost exclusively male company of about 28 employees. While I like many of my colleagues, I am increasingly reluctant to come to work because of the nonstop sexual innuendo, joking and outright comments that surround me all day long.
I am an attractive young woman and it seems that the men I work with, including my two bosses, cannot resist turning any statement I say into some sort of sexual play on words. One of my bosses even reads to me the subject lines of the spam porn e-mails he receives. The other one openly assesses my figure every time he speaks to me. I am uncomfortable at work and have begun keeping my office door shut to ward off a co-worker who likes to "pretend" to pick the lint off my sweater.
I understand that what happens is up to me in that I have the choice to either find another job or make a formal complaint, neither of which I am prepared to do right now. And I feel partly responsible for not drawing the line when I was first employed here four months ago, but I was worried about fitting in and keeping my job.
Now I fear I have allowed my co-workers to assume I am receptive or at least amenable to all this "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" talk that goes on, when in fact it makes me very uncomfortable and is often personally offensive.
I am hopeful you can provide me with some polite but firm responses -- things to say to help me establish boundaries and ward off these conversations before they start. And to hold me until I can make a decision about remaining here. It is very dispiriting to work with people who seem to have a juvenile fixation on sex and it is insulting to me that they don't consider me enough of a lady to spare the talk in my presence.
GENTLE READER: First, Miss Manners must warn you that etiquette does not have a good record in discouraging this sort of thing. That is why the law had to step in, once society finally acknowledged the seriousness of the problem.
Etiquette depends on the reluctance of most people to persist in annoying and angering others. So when we find polite ways to draw their behavior to their attention, they usually desist.
However, it is the object of lewd behavior to annoy and anger those at whom it is directed. Your question is almost like asking for a polite way to let a flasher know that his trousers are open.
Miss Manners agrees that resorting to the law should be a last resort, but you should give everyone involved a gentle reminder that it is available to you. In as cool and unruffled a tone as possible -- because the fun is in getting you hot and bothered -- you should say that you suppose they have been used to a locker-room atmosphere, but they should know that it makes an offensive working environment for female employees. The wording should be vaguely legalistic, but not contain an accusation or a threat. And you should keep saying it up the chain of command until you get to someone who -- regardless of his own feelings or behavior -- has the sense to get frightened.