DEAR MISS MANNERS: At an upscale restaurant, the waiter greeted my wife and me with a remark that shocked me and left me unsure how to respond correctly. After handing us our menus, he pleasantly wished us happiness and health, then proceeded to add that the reason he wished us health was that his father had just died of cancer.
While I sympathized with his loss -- it just so happened that my wife is a cancer patient and we were dining out in part to have a pleasant diversion from our health concerns -- I am quite certain that raising his personal family situation was incorrect. We expressed our regret at his loss and turned to our menus.
Should we have done more? Contacted management? I didn't want to make a scene, as his loss was far more grievous than our inconvenience, but it definitely put a damper on our evening.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners congratulates you for handling this as you did, and for refraining from saying, as many would, "Thanks for sharing -- my wife here has cancer, and we were trying to have one meal without worrying about it." Nor, as others might, launching into an exchange of cancer anecdotes while diners at other tables waited for the waiter to give them their dinners.
She agrees with you that personal histories have no place in transitory professional encounters. And yet, she would not have reported the waiter to his superiors.
She would not want to be accused of being soft-hearted. But your giving the minimal polite response to his confidence and turning back to the business of ordering your meal should have let him know that you were not going to be his confidante. Perhaps that will be enough to remind him not to serve his sorrows with the meals.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a student at a large university, and thus most of my communication with professors (for better or for worse) is done in writing (via e-mail). I find myself over and over in the same predicament as to how to address my professors.
When initiating contact, I always greet the professor with "Dear Dr. Jack Jones." However more often than not the professor will respond to my message with "Dear Seth ... Sincerely, Jack." What is the correct way for me to respond that is neither haughty nor rude? Should I continue to use the professor's full name and title in my future correspondence, or should I assume that by using only their first name, they are inviting me to do the same?
GENTLE READER: They are inviting you to think of them as your equals and your friends, but Miss Manners advises you not to count on such pals to be good to you at grade time. Rather than mistaking a posture intended to make themselves feel young as a personal gesture, she would suggest continuing to address them by the title of professor or doctor, whichever is more used in your university (and the first name should be omitted from the salutation).