DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was taught to respond to unreasonable requests with a great show of enthusiasm:
"Wonderful idea! If somebody can do that for you, it will be so much easier." Then in a tone of genuine regret, "Me, no, absolutely can't at the moment" (brightening) "but do hope you find someone."
This has served me well over the years, but I find it much harder when an unreasonable request is presented as something trivial and made (as it always seems to be) in front of a large group. I noticed this happening to a colleague yesterday. Colleague A called across a sea of heads in our general office.
"B, can you drop me off at the rail station as you pass on your way home?"
She then called her thanks before colleague B could respond and left the room.
Colleague A knows quite well that while B lives in the general direction of the station, actually driving to the entrance in evening traffic could add 30 or 40 minutes to the journey. She also knows that B has very strong reasons just now for arriving home as early as possible. Most of the people present did not know any of this. If B had refused, it would have sounded mean and explanations would have sounded lame.
How would Miss Manners have handled this?
GENTLE READER: By going home. But first, Miss Manners would have wrung her hands and said to everyone around, "Oh, dear, she's gone without waiting for an answer. And I'm afraid I can't take her. I'll leave her a message, but if anyone sees her, please tell her." And the next day, she would have expressed the hope that the lady got home all right and explained that she would be glad to take her when she has the extra time.
What is more, Miss Manners would occasionally offer the lady a ride. She believes in going out of one's way to help others when one can -- once one has cured them of the unpleasant habit of pre-empting such offers.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A number of supermarkets in my area have introduced these checkout stations where you scan your own items and pay without ever having to interact with a real person. What is the proper etiquette if you are next in line at one of these self-checkouts?
I usually wait until the shopper ahead of me has completed her transaction, bagged her groceries and left the checkout before I begin scanning my items, but lately, I've found myself pressured to "hurry up" as the person behind me starts sending their groceries down the belt before I've finished bagging mine.
GENTLE READER: It is indeed rude to pressure people to hurry up. It is also rude to keep people waiting unnecessarily. Timing is everything in this situation -- that and not getting your groceries mixed up with other people's -- and Miss Manners hopes you are not avoiding one form of rudeness only to fall into another. If you are not actively getting in the way of the customer bagging her groceries, you may divert your consideration to those in line behind you.