DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am living just now in a large city in China. I am not asking about local Chinese etiquette, but rather travelers' etiquette.
Although the city I am in numbers millions, I find I see other non-Chinese people out and about only twice a month or so. When I do, I used to smiled a little and nod in passing. This seemed to serve at first, however I have now had several encounters that cause me to turn to you for assistance.
Please understand that I am enjoying my stay here, and the nod and smile are just meant to say, "Hello. Isn't this fun?" with some confidence that my manner was not offensive or forward.
The last person I nodded to really glared at me, and turned to stare at me as I went by. I behaved as if I had not noticed, and moved on. Her reaction made me think, however. I realize that seeing someone in a public place in China does not constitute an introduction; however, it felt as if some small acknowledgement of the other person was permissible.
Have I offended? Should I stop this practice?
GENTLE READER: In a word, yes.
Miss Manners knows that you mean well. This gesture among strangers can be charming when the shared circumstance that prompts it is cause for either pride or sympathy. Hikers on trails nod hello to one another, for example, and owners of the same kind of sports car often wave. Parents traveling on airplanes with small children may throw one another glances of sympathy, or the people sitting near them may do so among themselves.
But it is unquestionably a we-they gesture, and therefore not so charming when the shared characteristic is race. You will protest that you mean it as acknowledging that you are both foreigners. But you used race to decide that, and you could be wrong. There are Caucasians who live in China.
Besides, tourists are notoriously insulted as being recognized as tourists. Their huffiness may mean no more than that, but it is good enough reason to stop.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am the care provider for three elderly relatives, with whom I reside. They are bedridden or in wheelchairs.
Other relatives only visited two or three times a year, but I was OK with that until folks began visiting unannounced. Because the care-giving is very labor-intensive, sometimes the house was not clean or hair was not groomed or clothing was not completely buttoned. So I asked that nobody come without calling, so I could tidy up.
Now the relatives are saying they won't come at all, since I am requiring an "appointment." They are insulted and angry. Am I out of bounds to ask for the advance notice?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners finds herself insulted and angry on your behalf. Their implication in suspending the normal etiquette rules for visiting appears to be the notion that you have nothing better to do anyway, and should be grateful to see them at all.
Should they resume dropping in, you might consider welcoming them and then asking them to keep an eye on everyone while you go out for a short time.