Miss Manners: Teachers must teach etiquette because some parents will not

February 5, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is your opinion of teaching etiquette in public schools?

GENTLE READER: That teachers have quite enough to do without being expected to do the most basic job of parents.

Teachers generally do have to teach etiquette, because parents often do not, and mastering it is necessary before one can learn anything else. This includes such basics as sitting still, respecting authority and refraining from annoying others. What the homes are like where parents have failed to teach this, Miss Manners shudders to think.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My adult son (29 years old) is an aspiring rock musician. The son of my old friend is a successful independent rock musician. My son would like to ask my friend’s son to listen to his CD containing his original songs.

I want to stay out of it, and I’ve told my son I would be uncomfortable asking the rock star’s mom to intervene. I’ve suggested that my son write to my friend or to her rock star son c/o her address with his request and include a copy of his CD. What is the right way to do this, if there is a right way? Should I get involved?

GENTLE READER: Staying out of it sounds like an excellent idea. You wouldn’t care to factor into your friendship the possible effect of the rock star’s ignoring the request or disliking the CD.

Miss Manners guesses that your son’s only hope is to send the CD to the mother with a letter expressing his admiration of her son and his wish that she will pass it along as gratitude for her son’s music and for the friendship of their mothers. (A bit smarmy, yes, but the idea is to make the mother feel she must do this for her friend, which a bald request would be unlikely to accomplish.)

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Where I live, it is both legal and necessary for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. If I want to pass a pedestrian who is walking in the middle of the sidewalk, what is the best way to notify that person that I would like him or her to step to the side for a moment?

If I ring the bell on my bicycle, they almost always hear me, but I feel rude dinging at someone. On the other hand, if I say “Excuse me,” they almost never hear until I am practically shouting, which does not feel any less rude than ringing my bell.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that about 75 percent of the people I pass on the sidewalk are walking while occupied with their phones and paying little attention to anything else.

GENTLE READER: This may be the only chance Miss Manners ever gets to correct someone for being too fastidious in worrying about what might be rude.

The purpose of the bicycle bell is not to chastise pedestrians who are on the telephone, or not in the habit of looking back to see what might be coming. Its purpose is to warn people of the danger of an approaching bicycle that may not be able to stop quickly. Use it.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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