DEAR MISS MANNERS: The other day, I was out to lunch with a friend and completely by accident spilled my entire glass of water on her not even three minutes into the meal.
I didn't know HOW to act, because even though I wouldn't have cared about it a bit if I'd spilled it on myself, she seemed distraught because the restaurant was heavily air-conditioned and the ice water on her lap made her colder. I apologized over and over again, and even offered to switch pants with her if she wanted (which she didn't). I felt completely helpless and humiliated.
Still, I couldn't help wondering if there's a tactful way to ever stop apologizing and possibly change the subject or move on. Is there a proper way to act in such a situation?
GENTLE READER: Yes, but unfortunately, the problem was in your friend's lap. As if she didn't have enough there with your ice water.
Miss Manners agrees that it eventually becomes time to move on. But the victim gets to call that signal. You have to keep apologizing until you exhaust her and she says (however grudgingly), "Oh, that's all right." That is the signal for you to get in one last "All right, but I feel terrible" and quit abasing yourself.
It does seem to be taking your friend a remarkably long time to realize that she can have either a cold lap and a tedious lunch or just a cold lap. Miss Manners would have thought that the offer of exchanging clothing would have been extreme enough to make her want to end the matter, but perhaps you should have offered to take her home for a change or to the Caribbean to dry out.