DEAR MISS MANNERS: Many months ago, my husband and I purchased tickets to a popular Broadway musical that was on tour in our city, and we were looking forward to the production. We arrived early and were in our seats before the rest of our row.
A very large man took the seat next to my husband. The seats in this venue are not generously wide, and as he sat down, the man cheerfully said to my husband, “I hope you don’t mind if I am touching you.” Then, before my husband could reply, the man laughed and said, “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter if you mind or not!” My husband just smiled politely.
The man kept one arm on the armrest he shared with my husband and the other arm on the armrest he shared with his wife. Throughout the first act, he talked to his wife. It was so disruptive and physically uncomfortable that my husband and I left at intermission.
What, if anything, would have been the proper response to this man? I am empathetic that the seat must have been uncomfortable for him as well. But it seemed impolite that he should laugh that his problem now became my husband’s.
GENTLE READER: Etiquette addresses behavior, not states of being. Miss Manners is afraid that this man’s attempt to make light of his inability to change his size -- after a lifetime of people rudely suggesting otherwise -- was his idea of a pleasantry. By leaving after intermission -- while your prerogative -- you likely reinforced that thinking.
The main infraction here was his incessant talking during the performance. If a tap and a look didn’t work during the show, at least some of your comfort could have been remedied and addressed during the intermission by your saying, “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind limiting your conversation during the performance. We had trouble hearing.”