DEAR MISS MANNERS: Once upon a time, when friends phoned, I considered the call a symbol of enduring appreciation of our friendship. There was a time when I recognized and appreciated the energy and thought necessary to suspend important actions on the to-do list to pick up the phone and just say hey.
Not so anymore. Not with the advent of the mobile phone.
Now I get calls from long-distance friends in enforced alone-time, the reduced-to-no-other-activity-time of driving from one errand to another.
I completely understand this happening occasionally, or even frequently -- but ALL the time? I struggle with these calls. It's just too easy these days to tick me off at no cost -- "Good, done!"
What is ultimately annoying about these calls is that I myself am not driving; I myself am in the middle of doing something important, I myself must stop the all-important to-do list activity to help efficiently and effectively fill the dead space of my no-cost call friend(s).
Isn't a good friendship about caring and costing?
Oh, and here's the icing -- just yesterday, a friend excused herself, put me down while she talked to a clerk, then picked me back up and rather smugly said, "Sorry, I find it rude to the clerk to talk on the phone while paying."
Huuuuh? Chopped liver, here I am!
"Errrrrr, ye-eees, so do I."
Instead of pleasure, I struggle with annoyance, even anger. I don't know how to bring it up: Would you please occasionally call me when it's inconvenient? Would you mind terribly adding me to your already cramped schedule of things you must do when you're not driving? Sorry, I'm in the middle of something -- just so it's even, let's coordinate a time when we're both driving. If you loved me, you'd call me when you're not rushing.
I have figured out my "in" from typing this e-mail. With the friend I talked with yesterday, I am going to say, "Do you remember when you put me down to talk with the clerk...." Still awkward, but at least it's an in.
GENTLE READER: Not the best one, however. That is the opening to a conversation criticizing your friends' manners, which would be awkward at best.
And you don't even have that strong a case.
Miss Manners is not denying that your friends' habit of chatting when they are idle -- but you are not -- is annoying. You are the one who is denying it.
Every time you pick up the telephone when you are too busy to talk constitutes a denial. Every time you pick it up but fail to say, "Sorry, I can't talk now, I'll call you later" constitutes a denial. And every time you stay on the telephone long enough for a friend to get to the front of the line in a store constitutes a denial.
Changing one of these habits should be infinitely easier than holding an "if you loved me" talk with a friend.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What do you think about Sen. Barbara Boxer being addressed as "ma'am" rather than as "Senator" by a U.S. Brigadier General during a Senatorial hearing? Was this really a breach of protocol, or not?
GENTLE READER: Let us not go looking for insults -- or assume stupidity, which it would be for anyone to insult a senator at a senatorial hearing.
Miss Manners assures you that "ma'am" is, like its masculine equivalent, "sir," a highly respectful form suitable for addressing any female, including a president, a monarch and your own mother.