DEAR MISS MANNERS: I foolishly did something I should not have. I'm very embarrassed to have made such an error, and of course have rectified the situation. Honestly, it was pretty minor.
Unfortunately, the wronged party sent me a very self-righteous, negative e-mail that was full of anger at my rudeness in committing said error. If it had been a nice or even neutral letter informing me of the rudeness/error of my ways, in response, I would have apologized profusely, bent over backwards to admit I was wrong, vowed to make amends and apologized once more.
Unfortunately, the appalling nature of the e-mail makes my usual profuse apology stick in my throat.
What is my obligation in this situation? Am I obligated to apologize, if not profusely? What should my tone be? How do I get over my resistance to apologizing to appalling people?
Usually, if anyone sent me such an unpleasant rude letter I'd ignore it, or demand that the letter-writer never ever take that tone with me again. Then I'd tell my friends about the irony of being accused of rudeness by such a rude person. But I am in the wrong here, and I feel very guilty about that.
GENTLE READER: There are two people here who harbor the mistaken notion that one rudeness cancels out another:
The person you injured felt entitled to be rude to you in return for your rudeness. And now you are toying with the notion that this person's rudeness cancels out yours so that you needn't apologize fully, if at all.
So as long as everyone is rude, no one needs to worry about it -- is that your idea?
Miss Manners is sorry, but it does not work that way. You did something wrong, and therefore you owe an apology. It is only fair to allow the other person to experience the guilt of his or her own transgression.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I want to "be there" for friends who might need me, but I resent being used by someone who is bored.
I received a call from a friend who said: "I'm driving to Chicago and I'm bored so I thought I would call." It is too easy to say she is not a friend.
I would find it rude to say "I am not bored" and hang up. And perhaps, ruder still to answer the phone and say, "Hi, if you are calling to fill time, please tell me so upfront.
Sometimes it takes a few minutes to realize that the caller is trying to "fill" time (and I'm "it"). So, it would seem awkward to say, at that time, I'm busy; may I call you back?" This happens with some frequency, which is why I am looking for a concrete response, please.
GENTLE READER: That first example is easy. You just say, in a tone of alarm, "I can't talk to you now! You might get in an accident! You might get arrested!"
It is the person who is nattering on without declaring a purpose who causes the problem. If it is someone with whom you do sometimes enjoy chatting, but you happen to be busy at the time of the call, Miss Manners assures you that it is not rude to say, "Good talking to you, but I'm afraid I have to go now." For others, there is that nice little box on the telephone that warns you who is calling.