DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a college professor at a small university, and I have had several students take a snippy, rude or high-handed tone with me.
When offering a range of times at which I would be available to meet with a student, I was interrupted and told shortly, "Well, it will have to be after 3 on Monday, because that's the only time I'm free."
Another student wrote, "I just feel that we need to straighten this situation out and make sure that we're both on the same page!" when in fact she simply did not like the lateness policy.
A third told me, "I want to know what's happening with this grade, because I'm not used to getting grades like this and I'm going to medical school!"
To the written correspondence, I respond in a polite and coldly formal fashion. However, I have difficulty in person or on the phone. I would resort to a simple, neutral "I beg your pardon?" but I'm afraid that they will fail to grasp the intent of this reply.
How can I indicate that a student's tone is inappropriate without being rude in return?
GENTLE READER: By saying so.
It is true that Miss Manners spends many of her waking hours warning people against criticizing one another's behavior outright -- and yes, thank you, she sees the irony. (She offers instruction only upon request.)
But there are certain people who may properly insist on the etiquette of their domains: judges in courtrooms, parents in their households and teachers in their classrooms and offices. You cannot court-martial offenders, send them to their rooms or roam the campus handing out etiquette violations.
But you can insist on proper respect being maintained toward yourself and, for that matter, toward other students in your class. Think of it as a long-neglected part of their education. The reply to the cheeky remarks you quoted should be that you will discuss the matter when they address you in a civil fashion.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Shortly after I started working in a small doctor's office, I found out I was pregnant, and I invited everyone in the office to come to the baby shower.
Now that my baby's first birthday is approaching, I'm not sure what the correct protocol is. Should the guest list for the shower and the first birthday be the same? I'm worried that I might come off as being too greedy if I invite all my co-workers and just plain rude if I don't.
GENTLE READER: Then invite only members of your family rather than any of your co-workers.
No doubt the latter were happy to knock off work to have some cake and celebrate your becoming a mother. But Miss Manners must tell you that this does not mean that they would be devastated to miss the opportunity to have more cake by attending a baby's birthday party on their own time. No, not even the small doctor.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Should my wife and I invite close neighborhood friends who have never met my ?daughter to her wedding? The wedding will be held in a neighborhood venue.
GENTLE READER: If they are close friends, they should be invited on that ground alone. Miss Manners hopes it was not your daughter who told you that only her friends should be invited to this family occasion.
But if they are simply close neighbors, with whom you have only a mild friendship, you should probably invite them on the grounds that they will otherwise complain about the traffic congestion.