DEAR MISS MANNERS: My lovely young teenage daughter enjoys taking our two friendly dogs for rambles in our large city, but she keeps encountering the same problem. Many people stop to admire and pet the dogs — some of them grown men who use the opportunity to ask her personal questions she’s uncomfortable answering (how old are you, what’s your name, where do you go to school, etc.).
When she was younger, I told her to tell people who made her uncomfortable, “My mother told me not to talk to strangers” because anyone who refuses to honor that reveals himself as someone she ought not be talking to. But she feels she’s too old to say that.
I’m not afraid for her safety — our older dog is a true gentleman, but any indication of distress on the part of my daughter would change his demeanor completely — but I want to provide her with the right thing to say that feels polite to people who are just making conversation but also gives her a way to deflect people, or questions, that give her a bad feeling. And I do think she should trust her feelings in those instances — that’s important.
GENTLE READER: Indeed. But as you already taught her the perfect thing to say, you need only teach her a new way to say it.
When a small child solemnly invokes a parental rule, she is not considered rude because she is reciting an important lesson. Miss Manners agrees that your daughter is too old to say it — if she says it solemnly.
But if she says it with an apologetic twinkle, it will seem charming.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When someone wants a family member to help with something, should they scream the person’s name as loudly as possible and hope the other person is within earshot, or should they get up and look for the other person? I’m not talking about an emergency situation, just something like they need help with the computer.
GENTLE READER: Until she got to the part about the computer, Miss Manners was going to recommend an active and gentle approach. But in her experience, someone with a computer problem can be in desperate shape, allowing for a piteous call for help.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Many restaurants play music at enormous volume. While I understand this on a Saturday night in a festive atmosphere, at other times it is distracting.
My husband and I often have Sunday brunch after church, and I would like to converse with him without shrieking. In such an instance when the music is blaring, I often ask the waiter politely if it would be possible to turn the music down. This bothers my husband, and he thinks I am being overly demanding. Is there another or better way to handle this?
GENTLE READER: It is not rude of you to ask, but neither would it be rude of the waiter not to comply, because of the house policy, based on the presumed wishes of other customers.
But you and Miss Manners are not the only people to consider conversation an essential part of going out. The time to inquire about the decibel level in a restaurant is when you make the reservation.