My parents are visiting and they're not well, so I have to leave early and won't get to it."

"I probably won't be able to follow through on that because I'm so far behind already in my workload."

"I haven't been sleeping well; your project is giving me insomnia."

"Nobody else around here has done anything, so I don't understand what you expect me to be able to do."

"There are times when I can't cope, and this is one of them, so you're going to have to be patient."

"There've been so many people out that I've even had to postpone my own vacation."

"I'm going through a very difficult personal situation and I really can't concentrate on this."

"I have exams coming up, and the job is just going to have to wait."

In each of these cases, Miss Manners was overcome with the desire to cluck her tongue and say, "There, there."

Of course, people have duties, illnesses and commitments that sometimes make it difficult for them to work.

They get frazzled, tired and helpless from time to time, and the job naturally suffers.

"Now, now," Miss Manners wants to reply. (Why she must say everything twice on such occasions, she does not know; she simply does not know.) "You run along and get things done, and then get some rest."

She has an urge to beg them to allow her to lighten their workloads herself and to send them off with strict instructions not to worry but to come back when they feel better.

But Miss Manners manages to suppress such urges. Instead, she says a cold and formal "I'm very sorry" and then goes right back to inquiring why they are not doing what they are supposed to do, cutting off any repeated bids for sympathy.

How, you may wonder, can she be so heartless?

Miss Manners wonders at it herself, because she does not find it easy.

But none of these statements were made to her by her relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbors or colleagues. Should any of those people be in need of understanding or assistance, Miss Manners trusts they would not find her wanting.

The explanations came from strangers with whom Miss Manners had brief business dealings.

Typically, she would ask why an item or a task for which she had contracted, and perhaps paid, had not been produced or performed.

Miss Manners is not doubting the veracity of these excuses, nor condemning human frailty. As a rule, she believes that the work place ought to make more allowance, not less, for employes' total lives, which means that they need leave for their children's illnesses as well as their own, and pregnancy leaves that are at least half the length of the old two-year military leaves and have the same safeguards.

But the customer should not be expected to suffer because of perfectly ordinary personnel problems; those are between employer and employe.

A good boss knows when excuses are reasonable.

How on earth is the customer supposed to know whether his sympathies are being requested by a conscientious worker caught in a temporary bind or a chronic shirker?

Instead, Miss Manners requests that customers be notified when a business is unable to live up to its promise, so that they have the choice between being patient and making other arrangements. Then there could be a ban on all individual pleas or demands to outsiders for sympathetic tolerance.

In the end, she thinks this would mean less work for everyone. As a society, we have come to have such unbounded faith in excuses, explanations and mitigating circumstances that more work may be put into presenting them than into the task at hand. And it would certainly be more comfortable for easy emotional touches such as herself.

Q. When one orders tea in a restaurant, which is correct -- pouring the hot water into the cup over the tea bag or putting the tea bag in the pot of hot water and letting the tea steep there?

A. Why do restaurants and even some rather pretentious hotels that serve tea (which they call "high tea," under the mistaken impression that it is a fancier term, when it really means canned meat and soft-boiled eggs instead of dinner) use tea bags?

Do they like having stains on their tablecloths or puddles on their table tops because there is no place to park the silly things after they're used?

Oh, Miss Manners knows that someone will argue that tea bags are cheaper or more sanitary than loose leaves.

But since you have to add the cost of paper, strings and little tags to the leaves, and they all get put in boiled water anyway, she will not understand.

There should be two pots, one with tea leaves steeping, the other with additional hot water for adjusting the strength.

Failing that, you will have to use the bag in your cup unless you like very weak tea.