"YOU'LL have to find a salesclerk to help you," says the only visible salesclerk, who is lounging at an adjacent counter.
"Call your waiter," suggests the person who is filling your water glass when you ask for coffee.
"Nobody's going to want to go there," explains the taxi dispatcher to protect a line of empty cabs from your proposed destination.
"Go ask the bell-desk," suggests the registrar at the hotel, when informed that you would like to have your luggage in your room for the duration of your stay.
"There's a directory by the elevator," announces the occupant of a booth marked "Information."
Miss Manners is beginning to feel like an auxiliary member, in bad standing, of many unions that provide her with no employment and as little as possible of the services of others. Because she is not minutely informed of the jurisdictional distinctions of the workers she approaches, she is made to feel that she has insulted them by her insensitivity to their degree of specialization. Also, while they are being protected against infringement on their proper working responsibilities, the tasks never do get done.
Well, Miss Manners has enough trouble following the dictates of her own union, the International Etiquette Workers of America, which enjoins her from ever telling anyone to buzz off.
It does seem to her as if umbrella organizations employing a variety of highly skilled specialists (such as clerks who sell stockings, clerks who sell belts, clerks who sell scarves and so on) might take the care to organize their staffs from the point of view of the innocent customer who, ignorant of the organizational chart, merely wants to buy something.
Far be it from Miss Manners to suggest that the belt clerk handle the scarf sale in the absence of proper personnel just to complete the action and speed the offending intruder on his way. That is certainly out of Miss Manners' jurisdiction. But perhaps she could raise the possibility that the belt clerk, if idle, could offer to find the scarf clerk, or to report relevant information, such as "He went out on coffee break in 1978 and hasn't been seen since, but we're holding off declaring him presumed dead out of consideration for the family," and then offer to find a higher authority empowered to complete the transaction.
It might even be possible to group reasonably related services and label them accordingly. There might be, for example, one line of taxis for people who are cooperative about being dropped off at places convenient to the driver on his way home, and another for drivers who are willing to take on the adventure of letting the passenger pick a destination. Hotels could guess that the same people who want to have breakfast in the morning also want to take baths, and that therefore it would be sporting to tell them when to expect the knock at the door, instead of informing them of busy conditions in the kitchen.
Miss Manners does not want to suggest anything so demeaning as catering to the wishes of the customer. She is only timidly putting forth the idea that it might cut down the workload if the workers had only to do what needed doing, instead of explaining the union rules to everyone who comes along. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. My husband and I experienced a very upsetting situation at our wedding reception last week. We received a cold, put-down reception and a few snide remarks from the wives of two members of the wedding party. Our perceptions were borne out when we were told that these two spouses (wives of the best man and an usher) considered it a "slap in the face" that we did not invite them to the wedding rehearsal dinner.
The reason we had for not inviting the spouses was twofold: One, there were already 16 members in the wedding party, and, two, most of them had not met, so to ease awkwardness at the wedding, we wanted them to become acquainted. We also mistakenly thought that by raising the number of people to 32 by adding dates and spouses we would be asking too much of the hostesses. We realized too late that it would have been only five more people at most and were indeed sorry we did not include everybody.
Attempting to explain the situation and how badly we felt, we received the comment, "I never heard of such a thing!," referring to a rehearsal dinner without spouses. All we could respond was that we had, because we had seen it done this way.
We feel their bad feelings may be accentuated by the facts that one member (without consulting us) brought a date and that later in the evening my sister brought her husband because the hostess insisted on meeting him since they were in from Canada only for the wedding. We feel badly for my sister, who feels she may have added fuel to the fire by making a decision under pressure.
Please note: I had two sisters in the wedding, and they and the rest of my family not only did not take offense, but felt it was a fine decision for several reasons. After the rehearsal, only one of the husbands (the best man) stayed. The other made an excuse and left.
We feel we did the best we could at the time, and under the circumstances. And that, right or wrong, it was our decision, and we never meant to offend anyone. We just find it hard to understand why they would even want to attend our wedding to air their feelings there.
We want to maintain our friendships and would have been glad to talk over the situation (had we known how they felt sooner, we would have changed things for the sake of harmony) as we never intended to hurt anyone. It is the distraught behavior they exhibited to hurt and make us feel guilty on our special day that makes us wonder. We are all in our thirties or roundabout.
Please comment: One, did we commit a social faux pas? Two, do you feel whether we were right or wrong, that their behavior was justified? Three, how would you handle this situation at this time?
A. First, have you written all your thank-you letters? Please do so immediately. Miss Manners is willing to help you, but does not want to risk getting these people further riled up with legitimate complaints.
The fact is that spouses should have been included at the dinner, although less formal partners need not have been. Going to a wedding for the express purpose of sulking is also incorrect. But you will find that the offended people truly believe that they behaved with restrained dignity. Their canceling out at the last minute would have been disruptive, also.
Now to your third question, which is the important one. If Miss Manners, who knows how to steel her heart, cannot countenance the idea of a nice young couple's being socially ostracized for life as the result of one error for which they are repentant, surely your closest friends can be no less indulgent. Write each couple a charming letter, asking them to forgive your social inexperience and inviting them to a second-chance dinner. One or two will murmur, "I suppose they expect another present," but those should be dropped anyway. The others will be charmed.