DEAR MISS MANNERS: For my job at a country club, I often have to call people to promote events or for similar reasons. Much as I dislike being so much like a telemarketer, I have no choice.
That said, my question is about talking to nannies. Most of the nannies who answer the phone speak very little English, usually only enough to convey that the woman I am trying to reach is not home. I tend to ask to call back and leave a message on the machine, because I've found that any human message-taker is almost always unreliable (I include myself in this), and if they don't even understand the language...
However, I have this nagging feeling that I'm being rude -- after all, I usually don't do this if I somehow catch someone who does speak English -- though I can't think of a better response, short of calling repeatedly and driving the poor nanny nuts.
GENTLE READER: E-mail.
Or -- if you can imagine such a thing still existing -- letters.
Miss Manners recognizes the delicacy of your worrying that you might be discriminating against a foreigner by not imposing on her time. But she assures you that calls to deliver information that is more convenient to have in writing are an equal opportunity nuisance and alternative methods should be used.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our daughter's boyfriend is staying with us for a few months, and while he's been no trouble as a houseguest, his dinner-table habits are somewhat revolting. We are at a loss on how to improve the situation.
We are not talking about knowing which fork to use -- there's only one, and it's a meat-and-potatoes, family-style meal. We are talking about hunkering over the plate with both elbows on the table, pushing food onto the fork with the fingers, stabbing meat like it's got to be killed before it can be hacked apart, then blatantly dissecting to separate unwanted elements from each bite.
I've managed to stop him from digging in before the rest of the family is seated by announcing, "I'll be right there; please wait and we'll pray." I've watched for opportunities to correct my own children -- "Elbows off the table, please" -- but the subtlety is lost on him.
I have noticed my daughter bump his elbow off the table occasionally, but mostly she ignores the problem. How can I help this college student who eats like a 2-year-old? He might be my son-in-law someday.
GENTLE READER: Not if he thinks he will be treated like a 2-year-old and instructed on how to eat. By you, at any rate. That's your daughter's job.
It seems that she realizes this, but is understandably reluctant to keep nagging him (which would also head off the problem of his being your son-in-law).
Miss Manners advises her to inquire, matter-of-factly and in private, if he wouldn't like to take the opportunity of learning table manners that would serve him in whatever circumstances to which he aspires.
If so, let them conduct the lessons in private and try to ignore his lapses. If not, you -- and your daughter -- will at least know what to expect. Bad table manners merely reflect a lack of training; a bad attitude reflects a lack of the quality you should most want in a son-in-law.