DEAR MISS MANNERS: For years I have had my teeth cleaned by the same dental technician, who chats on and on, asking me questions periodically, which of course means that either I mumble a response, because her hand is in my mouth, or I have to sit up, empty my mouth and respond. Some of these questions are directed to me in my professional capacity as a psychologist.
With the advent of the iPod and books on tape, I have begun listening to books while having my teeth cleaned. I hope I am not being rude by not participating in a one-sided conversation.
GENTLE READER: No, although it would be nice of you to tell the technician beforehand that you have some reading to catch up on, or that you have found that it takes your mind off your teeth.
Miss Manners is only surprised that you had not previously discovered the advantage of responding "Mmmmph." Whether this would be of use in your professional life, she cannot say, but it is of inestimable use at the dentist's.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was recently introduced to a guy by a friend. I have invited him to escort me to a black-tie event coming up soon. Who should pay for the tickets? I'm not sure, because we just met. A relationship has not been established.
GENTLE READER: Begging to differ with you, Miss Manners notes that a relationship has indeed been established. It is that of host and guest. As hosts do the inviting, they pay the expenses.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My friend is getting married (her third, his first). Her parents are both deceased. She thinks her husband-to-be should not be cheated out of a shower. The problem is, she wants her close friends (five of us) to pay for it! The guest list is about 50.
What do you think? Should we pay or should they? We don't mind helping, but! Would love your professional opinion.
GENTLE READER: In that case, Miss Manners will withhold her personal opinion of a bridegroom who would feel cheated if not given a shower. Her professional opinion is that showers are given voluntarily by those who should then pay for them. In this case, the volunteer is the bride.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband, who was raised in one of the "Our Crowd" families in New York, tells me that it was common practice to set the formal lunch or dinner table for four people when there were only three actual diners.
Can you explain why this was the case? The only two theories anyone has come up with are: to achieve symmetry, or to indicate there was an abundance of food and wine for unexpected guests.
GENTLE READER: As Miss Manners understands it, the idea was not to seem to disturb the servants for fewer people. The servants were not fooled one bit, and now that most people are their own servants, they don't see the point, either.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)