DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am encountering a new form of customer service with more and more frequency. Often when I walk into a bank, one or two people will shout a greeting to me across the bank lobby. However, they are unable to assist me with my banking needs because they need to be available to shout a greeting at the next customer who walks through their door, so I have to go wait in line for the next teller to help me anyway.
Another example is the video rental store. These customer-service-prone employees also holler a welcome to me from over by the counter as I enter their store. To do so, they must take time away from the customer they are actually helping, and I never hear them say "excuse me a moment" to me when I am the customer being helped and they turn to holler at someone entering their store.
Also, when I wait in line at a department store cash register, I will often be asked, "Miss, Miss, Madam, Madam?" with ever increasing volume until I respond, and then, "Can I help you?"
Sounds good? But they are in the middle of helping a customer who is in front of me, who, for all the logic I can muster, is not signing her credit receipt fast enough for the sales clerk. When I do answer and say that I have a question or a purchase or whatever, the answer I get is that they will be with me in a moment.
Duh! That's why I'm patiently waiting my turn in line. Maybe this last example is just an overly zealous department trying its hand at multitasking.
I appreciate these establishments for trying to provide customer service, so can I try to ignore them, as though I cannot hear them, until it is my turn in line? Is there a better response?
GENTLE READER: That would be to return the greeting upon entering a store, and, at the counter, to reply with your need so that the clerk can be thinking ahead.
Miss Manners is aware that the most unexceptionable courtesy becomes charmless when turned into policy and repeated by rote. Still, it is better than omitting the courtesies. To acknowledge a customer's arrival is polite, no matter how awkwardly done. Please do not discourage it.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was recently invited to a brunch in honor of friends who were recently engaged to be married. The brunch is being hosted by the parents of the groom to be. My question is this: In addition to a gift for the engaged couple, does etiquette also require a gift for the host and hostess?
GENTLE READER: No, but the question that is probably torturing you is: Where is all this going to end? There will be the wedding showers, the celebratory parties, the housewarming, the anniversaries, the re-enactment...
Are you going to have to furnish your friends' entire lives?
Miss Manners assures you not. Neither engagement presents nor host presents for parties is obligatory. You may want to bring one anyway, but two would be overdoing it.