Rudeness has long since ceased to astonish Miss Manners, although it will never stop saddening her, as you can tell from the tiny pearl-like tear on her cheek (and the fire in her eye) when things get rough.
But on two recent occasions, she observed public demonstrations of rudeness that utterly flabbergasted her. It is no small thing to flabbergast Miss Manners.
The first was in an airport, at the security entrance for an international flight. A passenger was loudly berating one of the guards for insisting that her husband produce whatever was setting off the alarm before he could be cleared to enter the boarding area.
"Can't you see he's an old man?" she demanded. "He's not bringing in any contraband. Why don't you stop wasting time and let us through?"
Aha, thought Miss Manners, the old offense-as-camouflage maneuver. People assume that those who are up to no good want to be inconspicuous, and therefore the lady made a scene to mislead the guard sw,-2 sk,2 ld,10 into eliminating the possibility of her being a terrorist.
Miss Manners threw a knowing smile to the guard, figuring that he was on to such tricks and grateful to him for having flushed out the troublemaker so easily. She fully expected him to extract a handgun from the husband and to lead them both away.
What she saw was a very embarrassed-looking young man who stammered apologies to the offensive passenger but nevertheless insisted that regulations be followed. Miss Manners has occasionally encountered guards who use their authority belligerently, but this was not one of them.
She was even more surprised when the gun that set off the alarm turned out to be a bunch of keys. The couple was allowed to board the airplane and, in fact, did nothing to impede its progress.
That meant that these people were not terrorists. And that meant (here comes the flabbergasting part) that ordinary, presumably honest people were making a rude fuss about following airport security procedures designed to protect them as passengers.
The second incident was at a city bus stop, where perhaps a dozen people were waiting, one of them in a wheelchair. The bus company had apparently gotten advance notice and had a car meet the bus, with someone to help run the apparatus for loading the wheelchair.
Only it didn't work at first. Driver and supervisor gamely fooled with the steps for a considerable time before they would flatten for the wheelchair and then fold again as steps so that all the passengers were able to board.
It was as cheerful a crowd as any commuters can be, and it was only later, when one person who had not been waiting outside in the cold, made the mean but standard remark, "Why don't they give them taxi service -- it would be quicker and cheaper," that Miss Manners was flabbergasted. Not surprised, this time -- but morally astounded.
Witnessing the problems connected with a faulty bus, this person was suggesting that the solution was not to fix the bus to suit the passenger, but to alter the passenger's life so as not to trouble the bus!
In both of these cases, the astounding rudeness was prompted by the inconvenience of a slight delay. Miss Manners is fortunately too polite to speculate on the value of the time of such callous people. What would they be doing with the few minutes saved -- serving humanity? (Oh, dear, she just said she wouldn't do that, didn't she?)
But she would like to point out that disabilities and the risk of crime are ordinary facts of life, and a decent society should not show impatience at whatever adjustments are necessary to get people around safely and conveniently. We are all hoping that our flights will be uneventful and our lives long enough for us to need a little help getting around.
Q. I was recently divorced from my wife of seven years. We have two children.
My wife and I have decided to give it one more try. However, her mother is demanding an apology for "the pain I caused her" because of my weakness. (Another woman was involved in my departure, but I did not leave just for her. We had other typical problems, and that was just the final act.)
My mother-in-law never liked me or supported our marriage. I feel the fact that my wife is coming back proves that she and the Lord have forgiven me.
A. Perhaps, but the Lord does not necessarily offer an on-the-spot defense of this position at family gatherings. On the occasion of a One More Try, it is customary to hand out abject apologies right and left, without counting how well deserved they are. (It is even particularly gracious for nonerring parties to say, "Well, I suppose in a way it was my fault," for the purpose of having this vigorously denied by erring parties.)
One more apology won't hurt. After a while, you can enlist your wife's cooperation in declaring a cutoff, after which, if all goes well, no one can again bring up the subject of your sins.
Q. Recently a couple held a dinner for their neighbor, a widow whose husband had been a very good friend of theirs. The dinner was on the day she would have been married 50 years, had her husband lived.
Just a few close relatives and friends were there. After the meal, the hostess presented the honored guest with an anniversary gift -- a plaque with an appropriate verse about not forgetting those who are gone. The honored guest appreciated their thoughtfulness.
Is it proper to do something like this?
A. If as you imply, the honored guest was pleased, perhaps her friends knew her well enough to know that she would be. Miss Manners is not going to interfere with the ways in which old friends successfully comfort one another.
She will tell you that she considers the idea to be dangerous, not to mention ghastly. It would not be unnatural for a widow put in this position to be emotionally overcome by noticing the absence of the gentleman with whom she shared her wedding. Nor would most widows appreciate having their friends, however close, issue them a reminder about not forgetting their deceased husbands.