Q. As a gentleman, I refrain from bringing attention to the seemingly incorrect behavior of others; however, lately I have found myself confronted with a situation in which I do not wish to remain acquiescent.
This is the unsolicited reference to some lost wealth, or the manner in which a friend or acquaintance has previously benefited from the generosity of some person of considerable financial means:
"Oh, last summer, David Whozit and I went to the Bahamas for a month on his private yacht."
"Of course I grew up on a large estate, so any apartment is a matchbox to me."
"In the old days, I wouldn't have thought of going out to dine with less than $300."
Grandeur of this nature, especially when obviously false, seems so petty. To compound the nuisance, the people who make these statements are usually repeat offenders.
Am I being a bit too fussy? How does one tactfully let it be known that hearing such nouveau-riche prattle, especially when it is unprompted and unsubstantiated, is wholly undesirable and nearly unbearable?
A. Miss Manners does not mean to be fussy, either, but she must tactfully let it be known that the phenomenon you observe is not nouveau-riche prattle.
Quite the opposite. It is prattle known as "Before the Revolution, my family used to own all this."
Miss Manners suggests that rather than being irritated by this, you learn to have fun with it. This is done by looking impressed and questioning the braggart with naive persistence:
"On a yacht! Imagine that. Where did you stop? How many were in the crew? Who's David Whozit? Does your family still live on the estate? Three hundred dollars for dinner? What did you eat? Does that include the tips?"
The beauty of this approach is that it is faultlessly polite, only taking up matters that the person has already offered for conversation. And if it does not put a stop to the offensive conversation, it provides material for future conversation with more amusing and sophisticated partners.
Q. I work in my cousin's grocery store as a cashier. We get customers who purchase a product and then complain about how expensive it is. They then proceed to say how they could get it cheaper some place else, maybe just down the block.
As the cashier and the employee of a relative, what should I say or do? I could simply ignore them, but the urge to say, "Why don't you go there and buy it, if it's cheaper there?" gets stronger and stronger.
I've had it up to my head with this kind of customer.
A. What you are listening to is not anything so sensible as an evaluation of competitive commercialism, but simple grousing. Miss Manners doesn't blame you for being annoyed, but believes anything so reasonable as arguing would be pointless, as well as bad for business.
Try replying cheerfully, "Well, we certainly appreciate your patronage," as if the store had been complimented by these remarks. Indeed, it has been. If your customers are really willing to pay higher prices at your store, it must be that the atmosphere or service is better. Surely you want to encourage rather than dispel that possibility.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.