Q) When I was purchasing some gardening items at the local supply store, I placed my selections on the counter while the prior customer was placing her change in her purse. I didn't notice that my rake had become caught on the hem of her very full dress.
While searching for the price to show the cashier, I lifted the head of the rake, which brought her hem up with it.
She suddenly shrieked, and I looked forward and saw that her hem was almost waist high, and she was quite clearly uncovered.
Before I could utter an apology, she began a barrage of insults directed toward me, which lasted long after her dress came back down and I had said I was sorry about the accident. I could understand her being upset -- she probably felt I had intentionally lifted her skirt, which I had not. But wasn't it rude of her to carry on in such a manner? I feel this only added to everyone's embarrassment.
A)You are quite right that when an embarrassing accident occurs, with no one's intentional misbehavior to blame, the usual polite thing to do is to subtract from the embarrassment, rather than add to it, after apologies have been made.
However, every once in a while an accident may occur that is so awful, so grotesque and so conspicuous that the only thing to do is to go with it, so to speak. The consolation comes later, when the acute embarrassment has subsided (which may take a long time, because these things feature sudden middle-of-the-night recollections long after the event has been rationalized out of daytime worry) and both parties are left with a funny anecdote to tell.
This is such a case.
The lady's shrieking, although dreadful for you, was the inevitable result of your unfortunate action. For her calmly to assess the fact that she was uncovered in public, quietly remove her dress from the raised rake, and nod pleasantly in acknowledgment of your protestations would have been too much to expect. Besides, it would have implied that she was not greatly surprised at finding her hem around her shoulders in public.
The only thing you could have done, in addition to your apologies, was to rival her expressions of embarrassment by your own -- calling out, "How horrible! How could I have been so clumsy? I'll never forgive myself," and so on (always wording it to show clearly that it was an accident), until it was the lady who became anxious to shut you up, rather than the other way around.
Q) Two ladies go into the city from the suburbs for an afternoon's theater performance. One lady offers to drive.
After circling around for at least 15 minutes, they spot a parking place at a meter, a few blocks from the theater. The driver asks her companion: "Do you think it's all right to park here? I see a couple of signs at the corner."
Her companion assures her that it is all right -- after all, there is a meter. With that, they each put quarters into the meter, sharing the cost of the full time shown therein.
They then walk away from the signs.
When they return, the driver sees a parking violation ticket on her car. The violation is parking after 4 p.m. There are 35 minutes left on the meter. The amount is over $25 and is, she feels, exorbitant. Her companion, too, is shocked at the amount.
Should her companion have offered to share the cost of the traffic ticket, or is it the sole responsibility of the driver? The driver is sure that had the situation been reversed, she would have offered to share the cost, even insisted. Perhaps she is a misguided philanthropist. Please set her straight.
A) Miss Manners hopes the lady hasn't been misguided by Miss Manners herself into the habit of writing about herself in the third person.
In any case, it is a nice thought to share the cost of the ticket because one has shared the ride and even the consultation about parking. But Miss Manners cannot agree that it is an absolute obligation.
Only one person can drive a car at a time, and that person is responsible for obeying traffic regulations. Seeking and listening to advice does not mean that the decision was shared. Being a passenger does not even require a knowledge of parking laws.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.