Dear Miss Manners:

I have attended several courses and workshops, some costly and all scheduled for a limited period, and I am made uncomfortable right from the start.

The first thing the course conductor does is to order the participants, one by one, to identify themselves and divulge personal information to the roomful of (mostly) strangers. I don't want my privacy invaded and my safety compromised; I want the conductor to get right to the course material!

Nothing is stopping the course attendees from getting to know each other on their own if they have the inclination. I believe this time-wasting and nosy practice should be eliminated.

This is one of those leftovers from the popular therapy craze of the second half of the 20th century, when it was believed that people accomplish more when they become pals. It is in direct contradiction to what every schoolteacher knows about separating friends during class.

Miss Manners would have thought that the custom had been dropped by now. Surely we have all sat captive through enough long professional and personal re{acute}sume{acute}s, in both the bragging and the whining modes, to know better.

When your turn comes, you can at least not add to the tedium. You need only state your name, your profession if it happens to be related to the subject matter of the course, and your level of ability in regard to the class. Having been regaled by others, your classmates are not likely to beg for more, but if they do, you should reply modestly that this is all that is relevant.

Dear Miss Manners:

Last month, my husband and I invited a former colleague of mine over for a casual dinner. After an enjoyable meal, my colleague's husband announced that he had to make an 8 p.m. conference call.

I offered to let him use our den for privacy and he emerged much later in the evening to announce that he had just helped found a new (rather radical) political party in our state. We congratulated him on his accomplishment and enjoyed a heated political debate before he went home.

I opened our phone bill last night and was shocked to see a rather large cross-country phone call made the evening of his visit. I had assumed that he used a toll-free number or at least his own calling card and am surprised that he did not mention he had made a direct-dial call. Should I confront him with the bill or consider it water under the bridge?

How deep is the water under that bridge? Miss Manners would have been tempted to pitch your guest overboard for the crime of doing business at your house during a social engagement. But then she supposes she would have tossed him a lifeline, for humanitarian reasons and also so he could live to pay the telephone bill. Send it to him with a note saying that he probably needs this as a record for his expense account or taxes when he reimburses you.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

(c)2003, Judith Martin