DEAR MISS MANNERS: On a small-boat river cruise my husband and I booked in Europe, the vast majority of our fellow travelers were enjoying the opportunity to explore the local cultures, foods and customs.
But unfortunately, one of them spent most of the time setting passive-aggressive traps for the crew of the boat. This person would place an order for an exotic favorite drink from back home, then berate the bartender when the presentation did not match all the details from their hometown bar. When the bartender offered (three times) to alter the drink to meet expectations, the response was, “You obviously don’t know what you’re doing; just take it away.” Similar demeaning comments were directed to the chef, the cabin attendant and the local guides.
The senior crew members did their best to step in to take the worst of the abuse. Fellow travelers were embarrassed by the behavior and wanted to mitigate the situation. At various times, we pulled the crew members aside to offer our apologies. We wanted to confront the aggressive passenger, but no one could devise a polite way to intervene. If we encounter a similar situation in the future, what would Miss Manners suggest?
GENTLE READER: No society can function without an agreed-upon code of etiquette, but the problems of not having one become apparent more quickly among those thrown together -- and kept -- in close proximity for an extended period of time.
Who, then, enforces the rules? Both the crew and the other passengers acted correctly, but it was not enough. Such efforts having failed, it was time for the captain (or some other officer in a recognized position of authority) to speak with the unruly passenger.
Any sensible captain would be happier ordering passengers into lifeboats, and may feel hesitant to intervene, remembering that the charges are also paying clients. But such is the burden of command. Judgment must be exercised in determining when such an extreme step becomes necessary, but Miss Manners trusts the captain to act before a full-fledged mutiny occurs.