DEAR MISS MANNERS: At dinner with a friend, where the neighboring table was no more than a foot away, I mentioned that I had recently completed reading the final Harry Potter book. She asked me to tell her who had died in the final book, as she gave up on the series after the third book.
I was a little concerned that the table next to us had not read the book and decided that I should give them some buffer time to interrupt or take a trip to the restroom.
So I asked my friend if she was certain that she wanted to know who didn't make it till the end. I then asked her if she was aware of who passed away in books five and six, and outlined those deaths.
Seeing that the neighboring table did not object or leave, I proceeded to run down the lengthy list of casualties in book seven. I struck a cord with the final death (having already listed everyone else that had died), and a diner at the next table said, "Excuse me, we have not read the book yet."
Her companion then stated, "I tried not to listen, but then I heard the name ___. I have not read the final three books yet, so can you please change the subject?"
I apologized and stated that I was wondering if it would be an issue for them but expected that they would have interrupted sooner if it was.
Looking back on this situation, I have no idea what was and was not appropriate etiquette. I would like to know the rules about giving away endings to movies or books to strangers.
GENTLE READER: It appears as though the moral here ought to be that people who eavesdrop should pay closer attention and state their criticisms clearly and early.
Miss Manners thinks not. The better rule is never to say anything in public that you do not want overheard. And when you do so anyway, keep your voice down and avoid using names. (In this case, you could have written or whispered the name.)
Protecting others -- not only from literary surprises, but from foul language and salacious stories -- is one reason. A more compelling one to those tempted to tell all may be to protect themselves from gossipy eavesdroppers, including inadvertent ones.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are both in recovery from alcoholism and do not drink. Our children and careers have introduced us to many fine people, and we are often invited to attend dinners and parties with acquaintances. On these occasions, I have a sense of dread each time I am offered a cocktail.
I typically say I'd love a soda water and lime and leave it at that. It is only uncomfortable at small gatherings when people ask why we don't drink. I am not sure how to answer the question without giving too much personal information. We enjoy socializing with our friends and want to do so without drawing attention to our nondrinking.
GENTLE READER: You realize, of course, that people have no business inquiring why you do not drink alcohol, and you do not owe them an explanation.
Miss Manners recommends saying, "I don't care for any, thank you." Whether this is interpreted as meaning that you don't like the taste, or the effect, or are simply repeating declining drinks doesn't matter, because it closes the topic.