DEAR MISS MANNERS: I recently moved from California to Louisiana to take a distinguished university professor position. Here, it is very common for strange young ladies in service positions, such as waitresses, restaurant hostesses, bartenders and grocery clerks to address me as Hun, Sweetie, Dahlin', etc.
At institutions that I frequent, often this can also be accompanied by hugs from female staff who see me on a regular basis. I realize this is all innocent and well accepted here in the South, and so I embrace it with good humor, but the custom can sometimes lead to confusion.
For example, a visiting professor from another country cornered me after one such friendly after-dinner discourse and demanded to know if, as it seemed, I was indeed having an affair with the overly affectionate waitress. I tried to convince him this was all just local custom but he did not seem all that convinced.
How should I proceed under such circumstances?
GENTLE READER: Rapidly in the opposite direction. Apparently, you have not yet heard of the local custom that takes place when the waitress' gentleman friend strolls in with his buddies and discovers her in one of those innocent, good-humored embraces.
As you must have heard from working at universities, the huggie era is over. Miss Manners does not advise you to test this by embracing a student who has come to your office to discuss her grade, but she assures you that the much-overused "local custom" defense would not hold.
How unauthorized groping ever managed to pass itself off as innocent -- and even therapeutically beneficial to the victim! -- Miss Manners could never understand. Because this trampled all over the protests of poor old etiquette, the law has had to come stomping in to put a stop to the most blatant forms.
But yours, you protest, is an innocent form and besides, initiated by the ladies. Without questioning your word, Miss Manners feels obliged to mention that that is what they all say.
In deference to those innocent intentions, you should take a jocular and flattering approach to discouraging the hugs. "No, no," you might say in backing off, "I'll never be able to explain this to my (wife, girlfriend, department head)."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I own a small restaurant and am blessed to have very good business neighbors. I have become good acquaintances with the owner of a larger restaurant next door.
However, he has an annoying habit of coming over and talking to my customers when his restaurant is slow. This in itself seems rude because, friends or not, he is my competitor. Also, these chats often last over half an hour. On top of that, these visits occur when I am about to close, keeping me waiting for him to finish. I was wondering if it would be rude to ask him to leave. Would it?
GENTLE READER: Throw him out? Your best advertisement?
On the contrary, Miss Manners advises you to go over to his table and welcome him. "Do you know who this is?" you could ask your customers with whom he is chatting. "He owns the restaurant next door -- but it is here he prefers to spend his time, which pleases me no end."