Q. My job requires me to travel a lot, and I often have had pleasant experiences in getting to know businessmen who sit next to me in airplanes. They usually sit in the window and aisle seats, so I find two likely looking candidates and plop myself down between them. If one doesn't turn out to be single and interested, the other usually does. I think I'm quite good at picking them out, as one has to quickly in choosing a seat and, as a matter of fact, at least two such encounters have led to long relationships.
My question concerns the occasions when I am on a plane before it's filling up, and there are seats next to me. This doesn't give me much choice, of course, but I still can catch the eye of a nice man when he is looking for a seat, and he'll be pretty certain to sit down next to me.
But what do I do if some other woman or some elderly man just dumps down next to me? I don't want to be nasty about it, but they don't realize it could spoil my whole trip. Often when I get to a new city, for instance, I'll have someone to have dinner with, if we've been chatting on the plane. Can you suggest something to say to keep the seat free for an appropriate man?
A. Oh, dear, yes, Miss Manners can always find something to say. "I'm so sorry. I'm saving this for a friend," may be said in a quiet voice, without specifying that it's a future friend you hope to make, and provided that there is ample seating elsewhere in the plane.
Now will you allow Miss Manners to say something? That is: She realizes that establishing sexual contact is now recognized as the most compelling reason we were put on earth, but she suggests that people not immediately engaged in doing so may also have legitimate business and should be given the same access to public transportation.
Q. I am trying to teach my child, who is a precocious 5-year-old, to be natural in company, but what do I do about getting him to be polite? The case in point is a birthday party at which I prompted him, when I picked him up, to tell his hostess that he had a nice time. I was mortified, because he said, "I didn't!" It later turned out that he had gotten into a quarrel at the table with the birthday child and another little boy, some food was knocked over, and a lot of tears were shed. Obviously, he didn't have "a nice time." Is there something else he could say, which is polite but not dishonest?
A. "Thank you for inviting me." However, this is not going to solve your basic problem, which is that you have given the child an impossible task by asking him to express his true fellings and, at the same time, to be gentle with others' fellings. Miss Manners would choose the latter. Teaching someone to "be natural" seems to her a silly endeavor, but teaching a child to say a big booming "Thank you" will serve him forever.
Q. I have, if I may say so, a talent for folding napkins into interesting shapes, such as fans and flowers. I have seen this done at restaurants, but never in anybody's house. Is there anything wrong with this for dinner parties? I feel it makes the table look more festive. Someone told me that it was an old custom not only to do this, but to put bread -- a roll, I guess -- into the folds of the napkin. Would you approve of this?
A. Would Miss Manners discourage a talent like that? Yes, indeed, making napkins stand up is an ancient art, lost in the hurly-burly of modern living -- or so Miss Manners had thought. And they certainly used to have buns hidden in them. Perhaps you should be cautious about that little surprise nowadays, however. People would not expect it and are apt to be dropping them, like marbles, from all sides of the table.