Q: When I am sitting on the outside seat in a bus, and the person next to me (on the inside) wants to get out, should I stand up to let him by, or just move my legs to the side? Also, if I'm sitting in a "priority seating" seat and an old woman gets on, should I stand and relinquish my spot, or wait for a man to offer his?
A: Leg-swinging (keeping knees and ankles together) is adequate if it provides the departing passenger with enough room. Please give up your priority seat to the old woman. If you wait for a man to do it, you, too, will be an old woman by the time that comes to pass.
Q: When people one is with, whose company one otherwise enjoys and with whom one would like to continue on cordial terms, begin to talk disparagingly of people of other minorities, is there any way to politely indicate that one does not share these opinions? Can one even, perhaps, politely indicate that one feels deeply grieved that otherwise fine people assume that all the world shares their biases?
I have sat dumb through so many racial and other remarks that really make me feel unhappy, since I know many fine people, true ladies and gentlemen, from very disparate backgrounds. I feel ashamed that I have never figured out a polite way to let others know how badly these remarks make me feel.
A: You have hit upon Miss Manners' classic example of why manners are not, as other etiquette advisers sometimes claim, "just a matter of making other people feel comfortable." Your friends already feel comfortable making bigoted remarks in your presence, and it is your laudable object to make them feel uncomfortable about it.
Miss Manners recommends the I-don't-believe-I-heard-you-properly look. The lower jaw drops slightly, both to indicate disbelief and to emphasize the fact that there is no trace of a smile on the face in response to the supposed pleasantry, and the eyes open wide and fasten relentlessly on the speaker. If you stare long enough with this expression, you need not supplement it with any verbal statement. At best, it will shock your friends into considering whether bigotry is appropriate for ladies and gentlemen (allow Miss Manners to suggest that you are perhaps wrong in your choice of friends, because it is not) and at worst, it will have accomplished your objective.