Miss Manners: Public humiliation is not etiquette-sanctioned

September 15, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I think you will like my approach.

There were two 25-ish women on the bus sitting 10 rows away from me, but speaking so loudly that it was impossible to read. Finally, I went over to them and asked them if they were hard of hearing. They looked at me in surprise and said “no.”

I said: “Oh, I must be mistaken, but you were speaking so loudly that I thought you were. And you were talking about very personal matters that I am sure you did not want the entire bus to hear.

“You (I pointed at one of them) were just fired from your job. And, you (and I pointed at the other) were just dumped by your boyfriend.”

I then got off the bus.

GENTLE READER: Are you hard of reading, so to speak?

Miss Manners may be mistaken, but she cannot imagine why else you would turn to an etiquette column to seek — indeed, to assume — approval of your having humiliated strangers in public.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I live in the city and am experiencing an awkward situation with the neighbor who lives behind me. Although I don’t know him well, I believe this neighbor is a lovely person.

However, he is a night owl, and he often goes into the alley between our houses between 10 and 11 p.m. and uses power tools, or organizes the tools in his truck. Since I sleep very lightly, this wakes me up. What is especially frustrating is that the loud noises will stop and then unexpectedly start again after I’ve drifted back to sleep.

I realize he is not violating any noise ordinances, but it seems he is violating normal behavior for quiet, but dense, city living.

As our houses are back to back, I barely know him. To ask him to stop would be quite awkward. Also, I’m not sure if he is in the wrong. Nevertheless, the urge to go into my back yard very early in the morning to take revenge weighs on my mind.

As a final point, this neighbor is an excellent plumber, and I don’t want to do anything that makes it impossible for me to call on him for business needs. Are there any polite options for me besides ear plugs?

GENTLE READER: Why is a polite solution mentioned only as your third choice? You turn to it in desperation, after realizing that you cannot have this unknown — and, you presume, lovely — person arrested for violating the noise ordinance, and that taking revenge might deprive you of his professional help.

Yet Miss Manners knows that this is typical thinking when people deal with minor annoyances from their neighbors. They seem remarkably eager to make enemies who know where they live.

Instead, you could just go over and introduce yourself to your neighbor, make a bit of pleasant chitchat, and then ask him sympathetically if there is another time he could schedule his alley work, as the noise keeps you awake.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

, by Judith Martin

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