DEAR MISS MANNERS: My girlfriend and I were discussing whether or not it is polite to ask someone, especially a close friend, the size (carats) of their engagement ring. My girlfriend believes it is very rude and in bad taste to ask. I, on the other hand, think it is completely acceptable to ask a friend the size of their ring. Please help us out.
GENTLE READER: Presuming you can take your eyes off the rock for a minute, Miss Manners suggests that you take a look at the subtext of your question.
It is not a general curiosity about gemology that prompts you to ask the number of carats, is it? That interest can easily be satisfied with a visit to a jeweler's. These professionals even have little charts you can use as study guides so you can -- for reasons best kept to yourself -- learn to identify the size of your friends' rings without asking.
So what does this question to a friend mean? How rich is her fiance? How much does he love her?
These are not polite inquiries. The correct response to being shown someone's new engagement ring, whether or not the diamond is visible to the naked eye, is "Oh, how beautiful!"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can you please address the topic of etiquette for Instant Messenger correspondents? Many is the time I have been in the middle of an exchange of messages, only to have the other person simply stop responding without explanation.
This is understandable in cases where the ISP or the computer has crashed, but entirely too often my correspondent resumes the chat after 10 or 15 minutes (and sometimes longer) with, "Sorry, had to answer the phone" or just "Hi, I'm back!" It is my feeling that the departing party is obligated by courtesy to inform the other party of his/her imminent departure. I use the shorthand "brb" (be right back) if I have to answer the phone, the door or nature's call, and sign off instant message chats in much the way I end telephone conversations.
I have been told, however, that this medium is NOT the telephone, so the courtesies don't apply, and it is acceptable to simply stop responding and go do something else without warning to one's correspondent. What is your view of the subject?
GENTLE READER: That phrase, "the courtesies don't apply," chills Miss Manners' otherwise tender and glowing heart. It usually means that the anti-etiquette forces have a new toy and erroneously assume that it may be operated etiquette-free.
But if your informants only mean that the rules for telephone calls should not apply to instant messaging, Miss Manners is open to hearing their case.
Although instant messaging is reciprocal, as are telephone calls, it has this in common with other means of written correspondence (e-mail and letters, if anyone remembers what those are): there is some leeway in choosing when to write or read. In telephoning, we assume we have the other person's full attention, although goodness knows that this is now rarely the case. At the computer, you may be sure that there are other distractions.
So while Miss Manners admires your alerts when you momentarily leave, she is not ready to insist that others issue them when turning their attention to a boss or parent who assumes that they have been working.