DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I were fortunate enough to spend a holiday at a lovely restaurant in Paris, where the tables are rather closer than they are stateside. The restaurant was full, except for the table next to ours, which was soon occupied by a young American couple who began to talk at top volume.
We were talking quietly when the man suddenly turned and said loudly, "You're American! Where are you from?" I quietly answered "Chicago." He crowed, "We're from L.A.!" I nodded and smiled, not wishing to converse further.
The couple proceeded to discuss the state of their finances, the state of their emotions, the state of their relationship, I don't know what all, at top volume. It made quiet conversation between my husband and me virtually impossible, so we ate our dinner in silence.
I was tempted to say something like, "I'm terribly sorry, but I can't help but overhear some rather intimate details about you, which are none of my business. You may want to discuss them more quietly." Instead, I said nothing.
Should we have said something to them? If so, what? I wish to be polite, but some situations really test ?you.
GENTLE READER: Here is Miss Manners' test:
Would you have considered admonishing these people if they were speaking French?
Perhaps not, Miss Manners is guessing, although it is within reason for patrons to complain to management -- not to one another -- if they are assaulted with conversation-killing noise. Depending on your proficiency in French, you might not have understood what was being said, or you could have found this glimpse into foreigners' lives interesting. Or you may have been afraid that your protest of mere boisterousness would be perceived as rude and insulting.
The latter should also apply to those American diners. While it is your concern that you have a pleasant meal, which is why Miss Manners would not dispute a polite request to be reseated, it is not your responsibility to police your fellow citizens abroad.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am employed as a secretary in a hospital, where my department has three divisions and each division has a secretary. I received the following e-mail from the Director of the Department:
"Subject: Administrative Assistants Week
What would you guys most appreciate?"
My response indicated that I would be appreciative of any gift she deemed appropriate. Was I wrong to be unresponsive to a direct request to name my own gift? The whole thing left me feeling awkward.
GENTLE READER: Although your semantic problem is not as great as that of your director, who suffers from gender confusion, you do have one.
When you speak of a "gift," it is in the social sense, where it would indeed be unfitting to name your own. (And yes, Miss Manners applies this condemnation to the use of so-called gift registries.)
But this is a business situation, where you are supposedly being rewarded for your work. Can you really not think of any business concession you would like to have? A raise? Some extra time off? That supplementary help you've been promised? That was the time to name it.