DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a writer, and occasionally my publisher sends me on book tours. I am struck by how many people, fellow travelers, expected me to tell them all about myself simply because we happened to be sitting together on an airplane, in a restaurant or in a waiting area.
"What are you doing here in Orlando?" they ask, and if I give a friendly but vague and brief answer, they continue to ask questions until they have my whole life story out of me.
It happens over and over! I was almost -- but not quite -- rude the last time, but it didn't work anyway: A gentleman in a restaurant ended up demonstrating to me his new Palm device, including taking out the folding keyboard and explaining how everything worked.
I've tried subtly aghast facial expressions; I've answered, "I'm here on personal business." Nothing works.
I'm a friendly individual, but often, especially when traveling, I like to be alone and anonymous. Once you tell someone you write novels, they have to know everything about you, and then they quite often have to tell you all about themselves. Do you have any advice for me?
GENTLE READER: You already have all the advice you need, from your publisher and television and radio hosts. All you need to do is to turn it upside down.
As Miss Manners trusts they have been telling you, you should never give monosyllabic answers to on-the-air questions, but use them to chatter on in an animated fashion. In-the-air questions may be handled in the opposite way. If your replies are all "Yes," "No, and "Huh?" (that last asked rhetorically before you excuse yourself to return to your book or nap), your rating as a conversationalist will plummet to the point that you will have to be dropped.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My parents taught me to write thank-you notes, and so I am prompt about sending them when my friends or family send gifts or act as my host. However, as I have grown older I have noticed that friends of my own age are much better at sending thank-you notes to me than my own elder relatives. I don't think age should be the excuse, because one relative I can think of who is diligent about thank-you notes is 92 years old! (My mother, of course, always sends me thank-you notes.)
I have read lots of letters in your column from people who complain that their younger relatives do not send thank-you notes. Ironically, those are the relatives who do not trouble themselves to express their own thanks to me.
My uncle says that as the younger generation, I am subordinate to them and they have done so much for me that thanks for anything I may do for them isn't really necessary.
Is there some rule of rank that if the gift is from a younger relative, you don't have to send a note? I know they have done a lot for me, but I would like at least an acknowledgement that my gifts were received. (A lot of my relatives live out of town.)
GENTLE READER: No, there is no such rule. Politeness is not a commodity that can be dropped once you have filled your quota.
However, there is a restraining order out against your uncle, barring him from making etiquette pronouncements. Miss Manners knows, because she just issued it.