Q. Perhaps even the refined Miss Manners must, perforce, sometimes use public transport, and inevitably she will grow old enough to use it at the reduced rate (about all the service is worth).
So perhaps she could offer some guidelines to senior or non-driving citizens on how to cope with the pests who proliferate at bus stops.
First, can she suggest a snappy put-down to the kind of person who ignores body language that indicates disinterest in idle conversation (such as reading a book or newspaper or simply walking up and down, enjoying the passing scene)? This type invariably asks questions that are impossible to answer with any degree of accuracy, like "How often do these buses run?" or "When do you expect the next bus?"
There are, it is true, timetables, but these are not only hard to come by, they often bear little relation to real life. The question, "Have you been waiting here long?" is, to my mind, not only an invasion of privacy, it's stupid. If more than two people are gathered together at a bus stop, there hasn't been one along for the last five minutes.
Moreover, your average senior citizen has some degree of hearing loss, and persons trying to create the impression they seldom or never do anything so plebian as to use buses never take this into account. They mumble, thereby generating embarrassment and sometimes worse.
I'm still furious at myself for removing a hand from an overcrowded grocery bag to adjust my hearing aid in order to answer such a person intelligently. In the process, I tipped half a dozen eggs out onto the street, which not only made a mess, but cost me money. The cause of this misfortune not only made no apology, or effort to reimburse me, or even help in mopping up the pavement, she simply hopped heartlessly onto the public vehicle that arrived that very instant, leaving me to wait an unconscionable time for the next one.
What should I have said to her?
And how do you winkle schoolchildren out of Priority Seating without their taking vengeance in the form of pushing and standing on senior feet?
A. How, indeed, shall we teach the junior citizens courtesy and kindness, if their seniors are carrying on about pests and put-downs?
Miss Manners certainly does use public transport on which she finds the refinement level higher than in taxicabs, where she is subject to complaints about her destination, unabashed ignorance of the geography of the city, unsolicited political and personal commentary and unbearable radio programs.
The last time she was asked "Have you been waiting here long?" at a bus stop was during a blizzard, when the questioner was kind enough to add, "Because I just heard that they're taking the buses off the streets, and if you haven't seen any in a while, there's probably no use waiting."
The exchange of helpful information, and of actual change, since many bus companies no longer provide that, is to Miss Manners' thinking, a pleasant, rather than a pesty, aspect of city life.
However, she shares your disinclination for genuinely idle conversation from strangers. The polite answer to a truly nonsensical question is a shrug, followed by a return to one's preoccupation with reading matter or the view. If you choose, you also may point to your hearing aid, smile vaguely and then shrug, but allow Miss Manners to remind you that the assumption of hearing loss in the old, which prompts people to engage in unintelligible pantomine or offensive shouting, can also be rude.
Yes, it is shocking that people can be so rude as to ignore a difficulty such as yours with your groceries, or to refuse to yield priority seats or do so with bad grace. No doubt they are also masters of the sort of snappy put-down for which you mistakenly applied to Miss Manners.
Fortunately, some of us are old enough to behave ourselves.
Q. I have a 28-year-old male friend who is an immaculate housekeeper. Whenever I visit him (I usually stay less than two hours), my friend allows me to make my own drinks (hot chocolate, coffee or a wine cooler).
When I think I will probably have more than one drink, I do not put the various drink ingredients back in the cupboard--or place the cup or glass I use in the dishwasher--between refills. Within a few minutes, however, my friend will go into the kitchen to return the drink ingredients to their respective storage places in the cupboard, place my soiled cup or glass in the dishwasher and wipe off the counter top I used.
Although my friend does not ask me to follow this procedure, this behavior makes me feel uncomfortable about getting refills--not to mention making me feel like a slob.
I should mention that I would never leave his apartment without returning the ingredients and soiled dishes to their proper places.
In this type of situation, what is the correct etiquette from the standpoint of not only the guest, but the host as well?
A. What you have here is not a genuine violation of etiquette on the part of your host, but an eccentricity. Do not take his housekeeping methods personally--he is not chastising you but merely following his own fastidious routine.
Miss Manners considers this within the bounds of eccentricities permitted to people in their own homes. It is kind of observant guests to conform with the routine. Put the things away yourself between drinks, and you will stop feeling like a slob. A fool, perhaps, but not a slob.
Here is some gratuitous advice: You would not be happy rooming with this friend, or he with you.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.
Copyright (c) 1983, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.