There are two classes of travel in America: Steerage and Steerage With Free Drinks. You pay a great deal extra for the free drinks, of course.
Miss Manners does not think it is the belief that this is a bargain that attracts hapless travelers to accommodations brazenly labeled first class, deluxe, executive or luxury. One would have to be foolish, indeed, with one's money or even one's employer's money, to consider that a value.
Rather, she thinks, it is the hope, and a futile one, that one will be treated with simple courtesy if one pays extra. The paying customer has long since conceded that he cannot expect decent treatment in the ordinary course of life and pursues the pathetic delusion that he can purchase it with extra fees and heavy tips.
Yet what happens?
The first-class passenger in an airplane is awakened from a nap to be asked whether he wants a drink. Since the free drinks are supposed to be continually available, one cannot argue that the passenger might have wanted to be alerted to a limited opportunity. A flight attendant dedicated to good service can only claim that the poor passenger, with his head down and eyes closed, looked thirsty.
An exhausted traveler puts his "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door of his hotel room. Later, wild knocking wakes him up. The management has sent a free bottle of wine, either because it has discovered that the traveler is designated for "special treatment" or in lieu of apology because he complained of some previous failure on the part of the hotel.
Miss Manners is not prepared to argue whether most people would rather sleep or drink. Her point is that even supposed treats are offered without the slightest consideration for the comfort of the customer.
Why is that? Why are a people who pride themselves on being friendly and considerate so lacking in simple courtesies?
There are two reasons, Miss Manners believes. One is the mistaken notion that it is demeaning to be of service to another person; and the other, equally mistaken, is that it is more efficient to make customers adjust their behavior for the convenience of the employes than for the employes to do so on behalf of the customers.
It is not the premise of democracy that no one should have to do anything for anyone else. We should, instead, understand that work itself is dignified and that the individual gains rather than loses in status by being useful to others. Heaven knows we all take a turn at it -- our highest office, that of president, is a public service job.
Public accommodations have adopted the routines of hospitals, in which the performance of services goes by employe schedule, not customer need, in the name of efficiency. And indeed, those that claim to do so in order to keep the cost down, such as fast-food restaurants or self-service stores, have a valid argument if they charge less.
But any establishment that claims to give service must maintain some flexibility about individual customer demand. Any efficiency gained from ignoring that not only disillusions the purchaser about getting value for money, but leads to outlaw retaliation.
People long ago discovered the unfortunate truth that businesses that ignore the wishes of well-behaved customers do have emergency provisions for placating those who get furiously and conspicuously rude.
And so the creation of super-service categories by establishments offering ever less considerate treatment for more money has led to the evolution of the super-rude customer who troubles himself less and less about whether his demands are reasonable.
The alternative to giving him free drinks is to treat him politely and deliver the promised service. Even then, there would be no right to call simple courtesy first-class treatment. What democracy really means is that we are all entitled to be treated that way.
Q.I am a single female, 32 years of age, and I do not currently have a beau. Although I enjoy dating, I certainly do not wish to accept every invitation.
In past years, a gentleman would ask me if I would like to go out, and I might decline and thank him for asking. That would be the end of it.
Now I find that many men will not take "no" for an answer. I am referring to intelligent and otherwise well-mannered businessmen, stockbrokers, etc. After what I believe is a polite refusal, they inquire into my reason, often asking if it was something they did wrong.
Although I consider the fact that they ask such a question to be quite rude, since it makes for an awkward situation, I do not wish to reply in kind. Therefore, when I am sure that I will not be found out, I indicate that I already have a beau.
But even when assured it is fairly serious, they often continue to pursue me by calling my place of business. I have a management position at a local firm and do not see how I can avoid the mention of the firm's name in conversation. I have not encouraged these requests through flirtation, nor do I give out my unlisted home phone number.
I do not wish to imply that I am deluged with such requests; however, the problem I have described is becoming more frequent. Several women friends have experienced the same stressful situations.
With those who are aware that a beau does not exist, I am at a loss. Suggestions that we have little in common open up debate; excuses indicating that professional and other obligations leave me with virtually no free time only prolong the agony by encouraging more attempts.
A. A lady does not give reasons for not being accessible to a particular gentleman. She doesn't explain why she won't go out with him, she doesn't explain why she won't marry him, and she doesn't explain why she won't do anything in between.
The very notion that every lady would yield, if she didn't have a compelling reason not to, is insulting. However, the rule against explaining is not made for the convenience of ladies so much as it is for the protection of gentlemen. They may think they want to hear why a particular lady is turning them down, but they are mighty unhappy when they do.
It is, of course, true that declining one date leaves a gentleman ignorant of whether you are simply not free or intend to decline all his attentions. The third try is supposed to tell him that.
However, as you point out, such subtlety eludes some of them. Therefore, you must master the all-purpose refusal.
Do not make up stories about boyfriends, or worse, tell them truthfully that you have nothing in common.
Instead, learn to say, "Oh dear, this is a bad time for me; I don't know when I'll be free. Why don't I take your number and call you if I am?" Then if they track you down at work, you may certainly say curtly, "I'm sorry. I don't take personal calls at the office."
Q. My son got a new bike for his seventh birthday. He was told several times when he got it that it should be locked in the shed when not in use.
Well, it was not locked up, and six weeks later, it was stolen.
My husband and I told him we would get him a new bike when we got the insurance money. My mother thinks it is wrong to wait and wanted to get him a bike the day after it was taken, even when I told her no.
She says he's not responsible enough at 7 to put his bike away (which is not the real issue). I feel she should respect our decision on the matter; after all, we are the parents.
We feel he may not be totally responsible, but waiting will help him be more responsible next time.
A. Indeed, we have here two issues, the authority issue and the cruel-world issue. As it happens, Miss Manners agrees with you on both.
But she is full of sympathy nevertheless for the erring grandmother. The instinct to protect one's progeny from cruel facts such as theft, creating a world where everything bad can be undone, is a strong one, motivated by nothing but love. Grandparents have the luxury of expressing emotional support without worrying about day-to-day child rearing.
However, you, as a parent, have the difficult job of gradually teaching the child about harsh reality and self-protection. By replacing the bicycle, but explaining that there is a practical reason to delay, you are, Miss Manners believes, doing your duty to your child in a gentle but sensible way appropriate to his capacity to understand.
All you need do now is show the same gentleness, tolerance and firmness toward your mother, when you explain that you appreciate her warm offer but must act as you think best in educating your child.