DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a server in a coffee shop, I am constantly greeting customers, and I make a genuine effort to be kind and polite to everyone. I greet most customers by asking how they are or how their day is going. Nine out of 10 responses begin with the phrase, "I'll have..."
How do you suggest I respond to an answer of a question I did not ask?
It truly hurts my feelings to be ignored while attempting human interaction apart from the usual impersonal (and often required or even prerecorded) greeting at other quick-service restaurants. I realize it is probably not my place, but I am tired of biting my tongue and feeling less than worthy of a response or even recognition as a human being and not a drink-making machine. Please let me know a polite response.
GENTLE READER: "Coming right up"? Or perhaps "Is it to go?"
Miss Manners does not mean to stomp on your already-smarting feelings. On the contrary, she shares your wish that people would acknowledge one another cordially in such transient situations.
But that is done by offering pleasantries, not by opening conversations. You will have better luck with remarks than with questions. "Lovely day" or "Nice to see you again" require only a grunt and a smile, not an accounting of how the day is going. Slowing down fast-food customers is not a good idea. Treating them as human beings, not just coffee-consuming machines, is.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I live in a small community of 99 homes that unfortunately hosts an electronic bulletin board to which about half of our families subscribe.
When two neighbors got into a very public squabble about a cat, a third neighbor stepped into the fray, chose sides, declared one of the neighbors to be "irresponsible," and then posited that if this person were irresponsible in one aspect of their lives, it would likely carry over into other areas. He closed by saying, "I hope this person does not have children."
Of course, we all know all the people involved, and of course the person to whom this diatribe was directed does, indeed, have two beautiful children.
I recognize that if everyone had minded their own business, none of this would have happened, and I do not wish to emulate all off the bad behavior exhibited by those involved. However, my sense of moral indignation has been aroused, and I do not wish to permit intolerant and wrong-minded opinions to go uncorrected.
Do I confront this individual who publicly hurled hurtful comments on the off-hand chance that he will recognize and correct his behavior and possibly apologize, or do I continue to mind my own business?
GENTLE READER: That depends on whether you are hoping to be the subject of this person's next posting.
If, however, your desire is to live in a peaceful neighborhood, Miss Manners would take another approach. She suggests posting a "Dear Neighbors" letter, stating how much you enjoy the area, and regretting that minor squabbles sometimes result in people saying things they don't really mean. (Surely this includes not only the denouncer, but also the cat-fighters.) Then you close by proposing a clean slate, after which the bulletin board is to operate according to the neighborliness that all must surely want.