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Tuned Out

Wednesday, February 23, 2005; Page C11

Dear Miss Manners:

A lovely friend of mine has a rather annoying (to me) habit, and I would appreciate some guidance on how to address it. Whenever I put several words together that happen to be a song title, or words in a song, she'll start singing.

For example, I might say something like: "I heard the weather's going to be stormy tonight," and she'll immediately start singing, "Stormy weather. There's no sun up in the sky, stormy weather." If I try to return to the conversation, she'll smile sweetly and continue singing, "Since my man and I ain't together . . . "

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I'll try again to return to the conversation, but she'll keep smiling and singing, "Keeps raining all the ti-ime," until she forgets what comes next (but she'll go into another verse when she knows the words).

I find all this somewhat dismissive and more than a little unsettling, and I'm not sure how to respond. We could be sitting in a restaurant, standing in line outside a theater or shopping in a store. It doesn't make a difference. Apparently, all the world's a stage -- literally. Maybe she imagines herself the lead actress in life's musical.

I myself am a professionally trained singer, so I suppose I could join her in harmony, but somehow that doesn't seem appropriate in a public setting. I suppose I should be grateful that she doesn't start tap dancing, too. What do you suggest my response should be when my friend breaks into song? And am I being rude when I attempt to return to the conversation and thus interrupt her impromptu concert?

Annoying to you? Miss Manners has already been driven mad by your friend, and she hasn't even met her. Please tell her to stop!

Oops. That is what you want Miss Manners to do.

You would not be interrupting a concert to resume your conversation, because it is the conversation that has been interrupted. However, knowing your response was not rude is likely to be cold comfort, since it was ineffective anyway.

Miss Manners is afraid you are at the stage of begging for mercy, which you ought to be able to do in dire situations: "I'd love to hear you sing sometime, but not in the middle of a conversation, please. It gets me rattled."

If this only spurs her on to keep singing, she is not as lovely as you think.

Dear Miss Manners:

I lent some children's videos to a friend/acquaintance. I asked her how her daughter enjoyed the videos and she responded that her daughter had not watched them (it's been over six months). How do I get my videos back politely?

By saying politely, "I'd like to have them back for now, please. Let me know when your daughter wants to watch them."

Miss Manners assures you that it is no less polite to ask for something you own than for them to ask for something you own.

And if your own children do not get around to watching them until they are requested again, surely your friend will understand.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

© 2005, Judith Martin


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