Democracy Dies in Darkness

Style | Perspective

Miss Manners: Polite dismissals wasted on robocallers

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Martin, Jacobina Martin

October 6, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Dear Miss Manners: Caller ID and other technologies made it possible, for a few years, to screen out telemarketers by ignoring phone calls from unfamiliar numbers. But technology marches on, and now telemarketers are using false phone numbers, lifelike recordings and intelligent voice recognition to fool people into accepting calls we don't want and engaging with callers who may well not even be human.

What's our obligation to be polite when a call is deceptive and the caller possibly a robot? May one talk over a caller who never stops to breathe, saying, "Thank you, but I'm not interested''? If the caller is preprogrammed to respond in a way most likely to extend the conversation, is it acceptable to hang up the phone wordlessly?

Yes. If you have made every effort to politely interrupt the person, but to no avail, then they only have themselves to blame for the disconnection.

And as faultlessly well mannered and undiscriminating as Miss Manners may be, she does not require you to be polite to a robot.

Dear Miss Manners: My mother and I attended the funeral of a dearly loved aunt. After the services, my mother offered to cook my uncle a meal at his home, as he did not feel like going out.

Somehow this escalated into the entire family being invited, which my mother graciously accepted. The next day, she went out and purchased a 10-pound roast, along with food to make sides.

Upon returning to the house, my cousin's adult daughter (21 years old), looked at the food and asked how many people it was for. When I listed off the people, which amounted to 21, eight of whom are small children, she bluntly told my mother that she hadn't purchased enough food and that she would still be hungry after dinner. Her mother supported her in her criticism.

My uncle, mother and I found this very rude. Are we overreacting? Who was in the wrong?

Pre-emptively claiming future hunger — or criticizing anything about a meal that one has been invited (or especially invited oneself) to — is clearly rude.

On top of that, it seems to Miss Manners that your cousin's daughter's forecast problem was imminently solvable. If she insisted that she would be hungry afterward, you could have politely suggested that she procure more food. For everyone.

Dear Miss Manners: When my daughters invited some friends to a sleepover at our house, one mother asked if I would be providing supper. I said that I would, mentioning that we would be having hamburgers and fries.

One girl immediately declared her hatred of these foods. Before I thought how to respond, the girl's mother assured her that it was okay, that I would find something she would like to eat.

This put me in an awkward position, as that particular child proved to be extremely picky. While I did want to be a gracious hostess, I did not wish to be a short-order cook for a child who refused numerous options. What would have been a reasonable response on my part?

"Well, I will certainly do my best, and I hope that she will find something she might like.'' Miss Manners recommends that this statement be uttered with studied and consistent eye contact with the parent.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website,

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