DEAR MISS MANNERS: I wondered if you could address this issue with the hope of helping some men enter the 21st century: During a recent course of air travel, I was repeatedly offered unwanted, unsolicited "help" with my carry-on bag.
I am 38. While I understand that some of the men -- those before my generation -- were taught that they must help a "lady" with her bags or be thought impolite, I think that others -- some younger and some older -- use it as an excuse to intrude themselves on an apparently single female traveler. Regardless of their motivation, I would like for them to understand my perspective:
I do not want your help. I would never dream of asking for it. I am not so stupid as to pack a bag that I cannot handle myself.
Though I am small, I am much stronger than you apparently think. I am NOT interested in meeting you or any other strange man in an airport, and if you touch my bag, you'll only annoy me. Who asked you to put your filthy, disease-ridden paws on my bag?
No, I don't feel the need to be polite because you intruded with unwanted and unasked-for "help." And don't ever think of me as a "lady."
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners can reassure you that no one who read your letter would think of you as a lady. She hopes that puts your mind at rest.
And you may even achieve the 21st century for which you hope: a time in which whatever kindness is left is hounded by insult, and the only people who would dream of offering help to another human being are sexual predators.
But why would you ask Miss Manners to assist you in bringing this about? Or address her at all? As you have amply demonstrated, you do not feel the need to be polite.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a girlfriend who insists on answering every question that I ask her with a question. She does this because she believes that I have hidden motives or an agenda.
I get offended because while I may have a personal interest in the answers, I ask the questions because I genuinely care about her well-being.
Isn't it considered rude to answer questions with questions. As a matter of practice, I never do this because I always considered it rude. Am I wrong, should I inquire into the hidden biases of my friends to protect myself?
GENTLE READER: Although she wonders why you do not use question marks after your questions, Miss Manners will refrain from asking. One more person answering you with questions would probably finish you off.
Yet there are reasons for doing so, other than suspicion (of which you suspect your friend) and idle curiosity (of which Miss Manners is guilty). Reversing the inquiry can be a show of reciprocal interest, although perhaps an ill-timed one, and it can be a way of clarifying the subject to be discussed.
Most often, however, it means that the questioner has intruded on the other person's privacy. And yes, a legitimate sense of privacy still exists among those not auditioning for reality TV, and no, being in love does not automatically dissolve it. People have different boundaries and may be sensitive about one area and open about another.
Try opening conversations instead of peppering the lady with questions and see whether she begins to open up at her own pace. Or you could ask her if anything about your questioning is bothering her, and have her reply, "Why -- is something bothering you?"