DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am worried that I might have offended our window contractor beyond where a mere apology can fix things. He was replacing a broken window in the kitchen, and was there unattended for some time before presenting his bill and leaving.
Later, as my wife was leaving for a doctor's appointment, she said that she could not find her keys, which by habit she always puts in the kitchen drawer directly under the repaired window.
We could not find them in the car or her purse, so I lent her my keys. After she left, I turned the house upside down looking for her keys. No luck. Then I remembered the window repairman. After much internal debate, I called his company, explained the situation, and said roughly the following:
"This is extremely awkward, because I don't know the young man who came here and have no reason to doubt that he is trustworthy. But is there any chance that he picked up the keys in the drawer, possibly by accident?"
The receptionist replied, "Well, he is the owner of the company, and he just got back, so I'll check with him. Hold on." The owner had not seen the keys, and while neither he nor the receptionist seemed offended by the imputation that he might be a thief, I was mortified.
We later found that the keys had slipped out of my wife's coat pocket and were under the car seat. I went back to the glass company with a second broken window to be repaired; while I was there, I apologized profusely for any possible insult I might have offered. They said it was OK, that I had to ask.
Nonetheless, I worry that something more is necessary. If this were 1800, would I now be facing the contractor on the field of honor? Can I get out of this with a gift card to a nice coffee shop?
GENTLE READER: Wait -- you said they were not offended. So why are you fussing?
The reason that they were not offended is that you handled the matter politely. You excused yourself every at every step and never accused the contractor of anything more than an accident. This is not the time to send a guilt presents, which would make only too clear what you really thought. Miss Manners suggests instead a letter saying how much you admired the work and that you would be recommending the firm to your broken-windowed friends.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am only 21 years old, but I have been called "ma'am" for a couple years now. I always thought that "ma'am" was reserved for, quite frankly, older ladies or women like my mother and her friends, and that "miss" was for members of the same age group that still requires identification to purchase alcoholic beverages.
I understand that the people calling me "ma'am" are only trying to be polite. Has this become the accepted form of address, and am I somehow behind the times?
GENTLE READER: "Ma'am" is also the traditional form of address for female royalty of whatever age. Miss Manners would consider it a mistake to bristle at being treated like a princess.