DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a smoker. I devote a fair amount of time to smoking as politely as I possibly can, reserving it for my own home, the homes of other smokers and the open air. What do I do when I am smoking outdoors and perfect strangers walk up to me and tell me that smoking is wrong? I can hardly reply, "That is true, but you are wearing a striped shirt and plaid shorts, which is also wrong." (Well, I suppose I could, but it hardly seems polite.) I have taken to simply giving the offender a freezing stare and inquiring if we have been introduced. When did people begin to feel empowered to walk up to total strangers and comment on their habits?
GENTLE READER: When they redefined nosiness as philanthropy, undeterred by the fact that, as in your case, such tactics never work. Miss Manners is grateful that you understand that this does not justify your critiquing them in return. It would be more effective to utter a startled, "Really? Uh-oh."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: While I was a house guest, my hostess' fiance asked if I would like to play cards with them (rummy, I think). I tried to beg off, saying that I hadn't played cards since I was a child, and I really didn't know enough about it for anyone to enjoy playing with me.
He insisted, saying he'd teach me. He explained the rules, but I was slow to pick up the procedures, and he became impatient as he corrected my all too frequent errors. Several times he barked, "Think!" or "You know better than that, I told you!" Of course, I became more flustered, made even more mistakes, and it went on and on -- I felt like I was being scolded for being a dunce, and it was anything but a pleasant pastime.
Finally I said, "I'm afraid I'm not doing very well at this game, and I need to get up early tomorrow, so please excuse me." But "George" and my hostess both pressed me to play to the end of the game, saying "Oh, you have to play out the game or it will spoil it for everyone." ("Everyone" was just the three of us.)
I held my tongue, continued to play ineptly to the end, and eventually made my escape, though my own evening had certainly been spoiled.
I don't think I will be playing cards with that couple again, but was it rude of me to excuse myself before finishing the game, under the circumstances? What should one do when one is a tyro, especially when one is not able to play a game well enough for everyone to enjoy it?
GENTLE READER: Let us hope that this gentleman does not decide to insert himself into the educational system. Gang pressing people into a new activity and then insulting them for not understanding it immediately is not a good pedagogical technique.
Your attempt to escape was legitimate and your hosts were wrong to block it. But considering that you were their guest, Miss Manners commends you for submitting.