DEAR MISS MANNERS: I saw a wonderful show recently, but the first act was nearly ruined by a seating problem.
I settled into my seat at 7:25 with the help of an usher. During the overture, a mother and daughter arrived and sat in the two open seats on my right, about a third of the way down our row. After the show started, another mother and daughter arrived and made their way to the sole remaining seat on our row, on my left.
The woman to my right loudly hissed at me, “You’re in the wrong seat.” I ignored her. She then said, louder, “You’re in their seat.”
I replied, “My ticket is for seat 125. I’m in seat 125.” She asked what row, and I told her row E. On my left, the daughter sat in her mother’s lap for a few scenes, then they left our row for other seats close by (climbing over about a dozen people for a second time while the show was in progress).
Several people around us then started asking the woman on my right to be quiet, as did I. She replied very loudly, “Don’t tell me to be quiet.” Unfortunately, at that point, I did so again. I spent the rest of the first act dreading a confrontation at intermission.
When I have encountered seating problems like this on airplanes or in theaters, I start with the premise that I might be wrong, saying something neutral like, “It seems one of us may be in the wrong seat” or “Did they assign us both the same seat?” Rather than accusing the other person of being wrong, I leave open the possibility that I might be wrong, or that the venue has made a mistake. Being accused of being in the wrong seat, loudly and while the show was underway -- and by someone who had arrived late -- set me off.
When the lights came up at intermission, I told the woman on my right that my ticket was for E-125 and that seemed to be the seat I was sitting in. I asked her what seats her tickets were for. She summoned an usher, who happened to be the same usher who had seated me. The usher looked at my ticket and said that my seat was for the second balcony, and that I was sitting in the first balcony. I apologized to the woman on my right, and told her that this is where I had been seated by the usher. I got my things and left.
I wish that the usher or I had noticed that I was on the wrong level in the first place, or that the woman on my right and her friends had arrived before the show started. We could have sorted this out beforehand and not caused a disruption. But given the circumstances, how could I have handled this better?
GENTLE READER: By not taking Miss Manners on a journey of eight paragraphs before revealing that you were, in fact, wrong.
This does not mean that your fellow theatergoers were in the right. They should have been on time, less noisy and more polite, but those irritants made you impervious to the fact that you were holding them to a standard to which you did not hold yourself. Unfortunately, that cost you a full act, rather than a few minutes, of noisy behavior.
(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, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)