DEAR MISS MANNERS: On a recent Saturday, after eating lunch, I walked out to where my car was parked on the street. A car pulled up near me and the woman driving asked, “Are you leaving?” I responded, “Not yet.” I realize, in hindsight, that she must have misheard me as saying “Yes.”
I got in my car and got ready to brush my teeth. You see, I have an orthodontic device, and, pursuant to my dentist’s instructions, I have to take it out to eat and then brush my teeth before I put it back in. I had water bottles set up in the car for the purpose of rinsing and spitting.
As I was brushing my teeth, the woman in the other car pulled up in front of me. As I brushed, she occasionally inched closer to my car. Finally, she did a three-point turn and parked on the other side of the street.
This all happened within a matter of minutes. As she walked by, she shouted to me, “I thought you said you were leaving.”
“I said, ‘Not yet,’” I responded.
She then said that I could have pulled up and let her have the spot while I brushed my teeth, and that what I did was rude.
“Really?” I said. When she said “yes,” I responded, “Have a nice life.”
She then said, “Go away! Go back where you come from!” (That was kind of an odd thing to say. This took place in New York, and I’m from Connecticut.) I left, so that was the end of the exchange.
Most of the people I have told about this incident thought that I had the right to keep the spot until I was ready to leave. One friend told me that what he says in such a situation is, “I need a few minutes,” which would be less likely to be heard as “Yes” than what I said.
However, one friend said the kind thing to do would have been to give her the spot and then brush my teeth elsewhere. Honestly, that did not cross my mind at the time. This friend also thought that our exchange was ridiculous for two adults. What do you think?
GENTLE READER: The etiquette around parking spaces is closer to that of checkout lines than that of rental apartments. People at the back of a line can expect those in front of them to make reasonable efforts to expedite things. People moving into a new rental can have no reasonable expectation that you will clear out weeks before your lease expires.
Miss Manners realizes that the person coming and the person going may have different ideas of what is reasonable. Whatever your own definition was, it will go over better if you acknowledge the other party’s needs by appearing to go as quickly as you can. The other party is then expected to refrain from glaring or showing other obvious signs of displeasure.
Had your response to “Are you leaving?” been, “I’m so sorry. I’m almost ready but I do need a minute,” you might have avoided the subsequent unpleasantness.
(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.)