Miss Manners

Don’t Answer the Phone

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My friend's husband has the habit of answering our telephone when visiting us, sometimes to regrettable effect. Once he answered immediately prior to my husband's surprise birthday party, before I had a chance to hush the excited guest, and my husband, on the other end of the line, was sadly tipped off to the surprise.

Last night, he answered while I was outside chatting with my friend. He mentioned that "some idiot" had called with the wrong number. It turns out he was rather rude to our housepainter, whose first language is not English. Needless to say, I had some explaining to do later to this lovely man.

What exactly is the rule on answering the phone in another's house? I realize one should never be rude, but what are the guidelines? And how do I discourage him from doing this again?

GENTLE READER: The rule is that all a guest may do about a ringing telephone is to call out to the host, "Do you want me to get that?" or to say "I left this number, so that might be for me," and let the host decide who should answer.

The guidelines are that the host is indeed banned from being rude, but not from self-protection.

May Miss Manners safely assume that you have already tried the obvious? Such as saying "I appreciate your wanting to help, but please don't answer the telephone -- I prefer to let it ring" (or "the answering machine will take it")?

If that hasn't worked, you know this is not someone who was being inadvertently rude under the mistaken notion that he was doing you a favor. You should take measures to stop him before he thinks of doing you a favor by opening your mail.

The next step is from etiquette's unlikely friend, technology. Turn off the ringer. Set the answering machine to answer on one ring. Unplug the telephone. Whatever it takes.

Yes, of course, Miss Manners realizes that your busybody guest will discover this and point it out to you. That gives you another opportunity to explain that this is because you prefer handling your calls yourself after your guests have gone.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Help! What do I say to people when they say to me, often in a very loud voice, "My, have you lost a lot of weight!" Actually, I am at an all time high, weight-wise. I am stunned by people who feel they can comment on my personal appearance in an obviously false manner. I would never comment in a way to highlight their faults. I was surprised to find that friends had the same problem and were also struck by how hurtful it was.

GENTLE READER: "Thank you, you're so kind to worry about me, but I'm fine." The trick here is to refuse to say anything more about a subject that is not their concern ("you're so kind to worry about me" being polite-speak for "mind-your-own-business"). Even Miss Manners was tempted to suggest adding, "as a matter of fact, I've been maintaining my weight nicely," until she realized that that, too, could be considered an opening.

Instead, you should be closing off ignorant evaluations with the chilling hint that weight is a more complicated matter than indicated by the assumption that thin is always better.

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