DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper way to tell somebody whom you are calling, or when you are answering the telephone, and they ask you, "What are you doing?"
I feel what I'm doing is really not the caller's business. And when I call somebody, obviously I'm not doing anything but calling the recipient, and "I'm calling you," would be the likely response to that same inquiry.
When someone calls me and asks that, really it's quite an invasion of my personal life, and I don't understand why people don't say, "Hi, how are you?" anymore. With the rampant use of cellular phones, everybody has to know where everybody is all the time and what they're missing out on, I guess.
I especially feel deflated when they ask me what I am doing and I tell them I'm reading the paper or getting ready for church or whatever, they say Oh, uh-huh -- as if what I'm doing really isn't all that interesting or exciting anyway. What is the best way to handle this question of "What are you doing" without sounding snippy?
GENTLE READER: When the questioner has called you: "Hoping you would call." When you have initiated the call: "Thinking about you."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: At my first appointment with a new dentist, I informed him that my regular dentist of 25-plus years had a serious illness and that I had not had a dental exam for several years, hoping that my former dentist would recover and return to his practice.
After examining my mouth, the new dentist (who is by no means new to practice) launched into an obviously well-practiced discussion of dental health, etc. At the end of the lecture and my polite but measured responses, he asked me, "Would you like to keep your teeth for your whole life?"
Considering that I was there for professional services, the question and the way it was asked was condescending and made me feel like I was a child or weak of mind. I told him that I thought the answer to that rhetorical question was obvious.
This man has a very good reputation as a dentist, and all I really want is good care. I also like his hygienist very much and have been very satisfied with both her professionalism and her knowledge.
I have another appointment coming up. How do you suggest that I inform him that his chair-side manner needs improvement? At least, he ought to have the courtesy to address his patients -- particularly patients who are somewhat his senior -- with respect and dignity.
GENTLE READER: By definition, rhetorical questions do not require answers. Dentists get into the habit of asking rhetorical questions because the patients on whom they are working rarely say more than "Ooomph."
Being patronizing is rude, Miss Manners agrees, but she would need more evidence to support that charge here. In contrast, she is clear that lecturing him on his chair-side manners would be.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm old school about men wearing hats indoors. While I keep my mouth shut when I'm in someone else's home, I have a hard time doing the same in my own home. If a male guest arrives in my house wearing a hat, am I rude in stating, "I'm sorry Joe, but we don't wear hats in this house"?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is sure that if you believe in old-fashioned courtesy, you will not want to chastise your guests. The phrase you want is, "May I take your hat, Joe?"