DEAR MISS MANNERS: A friend who is a most genteel man revealed that in a frustrated moment, after being in an hour-long loop of voice recognition commands for -- I use this term advisedly -- "customer service" of a major airline, he shouted the most vulgar expression in the English language into the telephone.
To his surprise, he was immediately connected with a supervisor who solved his problem instantly.
Last week, after a bout with a telephone answering service that did not recognize the words "help," "operator," "live body" and the like, I too looked around to be sure my children were out of hearing and shouted "f---" into the telephone.
To my shock, this phrase worked with my health insurer. I later brought this up with my husband, who turned red and shame-facedly admitted that he, too, had used this method to get through to a different airline.
I feel the practice of American corporations programming the phrase "f--- you" into their lexicon of recognized words, and the fact that this brings the fastest results, is truly demeaning to our culture. Would you please use your bully pulpit to request a universal, clean phrase to replace the current magic words?
GENTLE READER: How about "Customer service, please"? No doubt this is programmed to produce a recorded laugh.
Miss Manners is not so naive as to expect the argument of civility or human dignity to be effective in appealing to airlines, let alone health insurers. But she will ask them this:
Which customer would you prefer to have aboard? The one who quietly goes to another airline when yours doesn't respond satisfactorily, or the one who turns vicious when encountering a delay?
Note to Gentle Readers: Please do not use the information contained in the question as a tip. Please?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My ex-boyfriend and I did not part ways amicably, primarily because he cheated. Unfortunately, our social and professional circles overlap to such an extent that it has been impossible to completely avoid contact with him in the three years since we broke up. Our relationship is polite but not friendly, and it would not bother me in the least if I never saw him again.
He is now engaged to be married, and for unfathomable reasons, he and his fiancee (who knows nothing of our relationship) sent me a wedding invitation. Am I obliged to send a gift?
GENTLE READER: No, and you didn't even need to supply the interesting backstory. If everyone who received and declined a wedding invitation were obligated to send a present, greedy couples would be blanketing society with invitations to people they hardly know.
And come to think of it, some of them are.
The recipient's basic obligation is simply to respond quickly. Nevertheless, Miss Manners hopes you can find it in your heart to do the additionally charming thing and write the bride, if not the couple, a note wishing them well.