DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there a polite way to disinfest a stranger?
I was enjoying a piano recital recently in a pavilion open to the outdoors. During the second movement of a Beethoven sonata, I could not help noticing that the enjoyment of the lady sitting in front of me was about to be curtailed by a large beetle. This insect was rapidly crawling up her dress and would in moments reach the top and almost certainly fall down her back.
Summoning the most feathery touch I could muster, I managed to flick the thing away without disturbing the woman. My friends teased me afterward about my "surgeon's hands." But I wonder: Would there have been a better plan of action from an etiquette standpoint in this situation? Alert the lady before possibly touching her? Secure her permission before proceeding? And what of the time element?
GENTLE READER: And what about Beethoven?
If not for him, you could have said, "Excuse me, there's a bug on you" and flicked it away, all so quickly that the lady would understand her plight at the same time that you were performing the rescue. Or you could have merely informed the lady of its presence and let her deal with it herself.
But there was Beethoven. Being deaf, he might not have been bothered by your talking, but all those other people trying to listen to him would have been furious.
The general rule is that you never touch a stranger without permission. (It also usually applies to acquaintances, but if Miss Manners declared that a firm rule, the human race would come to an end.)
However, she will not argue with your success, which suggests a rare exception. Even if you had not been so adroit, and she misunderstood your intention, mouthing the word "bug" would have been less disturbing than applying for permission.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Today I received an e-mail from a business associate. Upon opening the e-mail and reading the first sentence, I quickly determined that the content was very personal (medical stuff) and not meant for me. With some effort, I overcame my curiosity and deleted the e-mail without reading the rest of the lengthy message or looking at any of the attached photos.
So far I have chosen to ignore the e-mail. But the sender will most likely realize her mistake at some time. I'd like to assure her that I respected her privacy (as best as I could), but I hate to cause her any undue embarrassment.
Should I have immediately replied that I apparently received an e-mail not meant for me so I deleted it without reading it, and thought she'd like to know so that she could send it to the proper recipient? (Is that even believable?) Or is it best to just pretend it never happened?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners believes you. But sadly, she believes you are right in suspecting that no one else will. What you might say that is more plausible is, "I believe I got an e-mail from you, but I couldn't open it, and now it's gone." The "couldn't" here refers to your high standard of morality.