DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work in the box office of a small theater and have two Politeness Problems new with the advent of the cell phone.
Before the cell phone, people would either get directions before they got in their car and arrive on time, or they wouldn't, they'd get lost and show up just before intermission. Now, at about 7:40 p.m., when I've got six people in line, the phone starts ringing with people wanting directions from someplace where God lost his shoes.
And they want those directions one block at a time. "OK, I'm at the corner of Atticus and Finch. Turning left. Should I have turned left? Now I'm at MacArthur and Park. I can see St. Joe's Hospital -- am I going the right way?" There are almost always muffled howls of laughter from the back seat.
My response: "Ma'am, I'll be happy to help you when I've finished serving the patrons in line. Can you hold or call me back?" They usually say, "No, really, how many blocks am I from the theater if I'm right by the park with that weird fountain?"
I don't know what to say to that. It seems rude, but all I can do is chirp, "Please hold" and then abandon them. Not good. (I do make sure people get directions when they call for reservations and am trying to get some volunteer help, but I am not optimistic.)
I face another dilemma when patrons, talking on their phones, come to the box office window to pick up tickets. They don't give me a name, and then they fumble around making arcane gestures to demonstrate that they want two adult tickets, and a subscriber exchange and oh, someone in the cast was supposed to leave a comp for them.
It's rude, but it's also frustrating because these transactions take twice as long as they should and delay the other people waiting in line. I try smiling blankly, as if politely waiting for their attention. Sometimes this works, sometimes they look testy and just stand there to finish the conversation. Would it be polite to post a sign saying something like, "As a courtesy to our patrons, we will not interrupt your phone conversation with ticket transactions." And would they get it? Is there another solution?
GENTLE READER: You, too, can use arcane gestures and modern telephones.
The sign meets Miss Manners' standard of politeness, so put it up and gesture toward it when necessary. The person on the telephone may be too distracted to get it, but the person next in line will get it and move toward you when you beckon.
Next, stop answering your own telephone promptly at 7:40, and set it to a recorded message giving directions to the theater. See? Telephone technology can be your friend.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: The day before my birthday, I received flowers delivered to my office, with a card that read "Happy Birthday! Have a great day! John."
I have two gentleman friends named John, so I called the florist to inquire if "John" had provided a last name. The florist was unable to provide any additional information.
Since neither gentlemen has inquired if I received flowers, I am still unsure whom to thank!
GENTLE READER: Thank them both. You may not find out which one sent the flowers, but you will have two bouquets on your next birthday.