DEAR MISS MANNERS: I got into an airport shuttle where another passenger was also seated. She remarked pleasantly, "It's hotter here than I expected." I responded that it was a surprise to encounter such temperatures.
Then she said, "The plane was delayed, but at least it got here." I started to respond to this when she made some reference to a relative of hers unknown to me. It was at that point I realized that she was not talking to me but to someone on her cell phone.
I was rather embarrassed and immediately ceased talking. After she finished a lengthy conversation, she turned to me and said she had been speaking to her son. Neither of us acknowledged my mistaken interference with her conversation.
How can one avoid these situations? Should we closely survey the ears of anyone who appears to be talking to us? Should I have apologized for speaking out of turn?
GENTLE READER: You could have remarked pleasantly, "and I was talking to my daughter," thus dazzling the lady with the idea that you employed technology so advanced as to be totally invisible. Presumably because it involved a chip having been planted in your head.
But Miss Manners hardly thinks this necessary. Refusing to answer someone until you have done an ear check would be rude. Making the now-common mistake you did is only a gaffe, which is to say that it is mildly funny.
If you even have reason to believe that the lady heard your comments, since she was at the time paying attention to her own conversation, you could have said, "I'm so sorry, I didn't realize you were on the telephone." Not witty, but it will draw a smile all the same.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: How is a case of suspected food poisoning handled? A few days after I served an inside lunch to some friends on a summer day, I found out that one of my guests had called several other guests to see if they, too, had gotten sick from the lunch I served.
None had, so the matter was dropped. I never talked to the caller, but I was miffed that she didn't talk to me before she called other guests. I was embarrassed that she called the other guests, who otherwise would never had thought ill of my food preparation.
How is a case of suspect food poisoning dealt with? Should the host be consulted? Should the person feeling sick not say anything? Should a person try to spare the hostess an anxious reflection of her lunch?
GENTLE READER: As it happens, you did not poison your guests, so there is no reason to think that people who did not get ill from your food nevertheless thought ill of you.
If you had, you would want to know about it so that you could notify your supplier, pay hospital visits and abase yourself, athough presumably you would not have done it on purpose. Miss Manners' guess is that the ill guest wanted to spare you the worry if her problem were unrelated to lunch, as indeed it turned out not to be.