DEAR MISS MANNERS: I just came home from three days in a hospital to replace a knee. I wore only a hospital gown, open at the back and (for a tall man like me) barely covering the pubic area. A book for hospital patients explained that this is necessary for medical measurements and procedures and particularly for emergencies.
Often, during manipulations and exercises, the gown gave no protection at all. As the nudity was appropriate in the situation and the staff was professional, I did not feel at all uncomfortable. The book said (though the hospital staff never mentioned the matter) that at some point during the hospital stay, when the immediate danger was over, a patient who did feel uncomfortable could request additional clothing. I never did, especially since it was difficult moving to the bathroom and the gown made other arrangements easier.
But on the third day, the physical therapist, a woman, looked away as she worked with me, and I wondered: Do good manners require a male patient to wear pants when possible out of consideration for the overwhelmingly female hospital staff?
GENTLE READER: Good manners require that both patient and hospital staff pretend that there is nothing personal about the naked human body -- that it is merely a biological specimen that one of them happens to inhabit and the other is trying to fix. Etiquette is full of such injunctions against taking notice of the obvious, Miss Manners is proud to say.
However, patients are less practiced in maintaining this particular fiction, which is why the hospital was willing to admit that some of them might not want to snuggle up in that indecent garment they call a hospital gown longer than strictly necessary.
But in your case, it seems to have been the therapist who blinked. Had she visited you in your home, she would have been right to be alarmed. To find a hospital patient wearing -- or trying to wear; Miss Manners assumes you did not intend to flash the lady -- a hospital gown in a hospital room ought not to have startled her. Steadfastly maintaining the convention by refusing to notice that she had noticed would be preferable at this point to your also abandoning the convention. At the same time, and while maintaining an aloof expression, you should be looking for an opportunity to cover up as best you can.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Last week I flew on a red-eye that left Lima at midnight and arrived in Atlanta at 8 a.m. I was in an interesting conversation with a charming Peruvian when the gentleman in front of her turned around and asked us to keep quiet, as he was trying to sleep.
Since I didn't want to end the conversation, I offered him some earplugs. He declined and stalked off in a huff. Fortunately, there was an empty seat to which he repaired.
Now, if this were a theater, he would be perfectly correct in asking for quiet. If it were a daylight flight, I would be perfectly correct in refusing. But this is a grey -- or red-eye -- area, which only Miss Manners can adjudicate.
GENTLE READER: It is a red-eye matter, Miss Manners is afraid. After-hours in an airplane are considered beddy-bye time, however much the scanty seats and pillows make this into a mockery, and voices should be kept to a whisper.