DEAR MISS MANNERS: My exchange student and I were at a local chain eatery, and I was asking him to notice how friendly Americans are with each other, as compared to his native country of India, where our mutual experience has been consistently negative, to say the least.
Just as he had begun to nod in agreement and comment on how easy going we are as a culture, we suddenly realized that a woman at the table next to us was very upset. We didn't mean to stare, but it was impossible to ignore this woman's rant. Her voice cracked and raised an octave by the time she got to the point of her complaint.
Had her meal been prepared incorrectly or a staff person behaved unprofessionally, I could understand it. But she was screaming at the manager during the middle of Saturday lunch rush because she had hinted and hinted to their server that it was her 45th birthday, but no one from the restaurant's staff sang "Happy Birthday."
WHAT?! She's 45, not five. The manager didn't really know how to respond because it was such an odd issue -- one I cannot imagine has ever been surfaced previously. If you were the manager, what could you possibly respond with?
My student looked to me for an explanation ... but I had nothing. What can you say about a 45-year-old woman who isn't satisfied with the camaraderie of her pals or a delicious meal and would let the lack of insincere strangers singing something out of obligation wreck her entire birthday?
GENTLE READER: What Miss Manners would have said if she were the manager would be, "Oh, now you've ruined the surprise!" If probed further, she would have gone off shaking her head sadly and saying, "No, no, it's no use; it's ruined. But happy birthday anyway."
What you should say to your student is that you are sorry and ashamed about insulting his country. Every country has people who are rude, not to mention childish and nutty, so such generalizations are as meaningless as they are rude. And by the way, so is raising the voice to utter a reasonable complaint.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My partner and I are planning a commitment ceremony for next spring and want to send save-the-date cards to our friends and family. It seems that members of our extended families want an "explanation" for why we are bothering to plan a wedding-like ceremony that conveys no legal or financial significance. We know such an explanation would seem absurd if printed on the save-the-date cards of a heterosexual couple, but it seems necessary in our situation.
My parents already have encouraged the explanation to be printed, in order to save themselves from having to give the explanation verbally to those who would ask.
Should we print the "explanation" on the save-the-date card, if only to clarify that this is a wedding-like ceremony? (If so, can you suggest wording?) Or should we send a normal save-the-date card? What should we, or our parents, say to these not-quite well-wishers when they ask?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners strongly urges you not to make any such defensive declaration, printed or spoken. Anyone silly or impertinent enough to ask should be told that you are doing this because you both want to. Your relatives and friends didn't marry solely for financial reasons and legal benefits -- at least Miss Manners hopes not.