Dear Miss Manners:
What is the proper response (if any) upon meeting a stranger with a prosthetic limb?
I was recently in a pizza restaurant with a friend, and while ordering, we noticed that the young lady at the cash register had a realistic but still noticeably false right arm. My friend wanted to ask her how she had lost her arm, pointing out that it was "a natural impulse" and "nothing to be ashamed of."
I, however, advised him not to mention it. I told him it was impolite to discuss such things with strangers and, at any rate, I couldn't imagine the young woman would like to have that same discussion with everyone to whom she sells a pizza. Was my friend out of line to want to ask, or am I just a prude?
That rudeness is natural, Miss Manners agrees. But surely you can think of some natural acts that are not socially acceptable.
Freely acting on an impulse without considering the unpleasant effect it would have on others is indeed something to be ashamed of.
The cashier is not there to satisfy the customers' curiosity. The proper response upon meeting her is "How much do we owe?"
Dear Miss Manners:
What should someone do when his apology is not accepted?
I was in the grocery store and left my cart to grab an item I had passed earlier in the aisle. I only meant to be away from my cart a second, but I couldn't locate the exact brand. When I found what I needed I looked up to see another shopper having to move my cart. As I jogged back to my cart, I told her, "Sorry about that. I should have pulled my cart over more to the side than I did."
Her response was an angry, "Well, I couldn't get through."
A friend of mine mentioned a similar incident when she had both of her children, who were just potty-trained, in a public restroom. A woman kept banging on the door and my friend kept having to say that the restroom was occupied.
When she opened the door, she apologized for the delay, pointing out that she needed extra time tending to her small children. The woman just yelled at her for taking so long.
I am not looking for a sharp comeback; I am just wondering if I am obligated to try to apologize again or say anything else when my first apology was clearly not accepted.
"Anything else?" Miss Manners hopes you are not asking whether a rude response to politeness entitles the polite person to turn equally rude.
What you can do is to apologize again, but this time with an edge in your voice: "I'm so very, very sorry." Then walk away just in case the response is "Well, you ought to be."
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c) 2005, Judith Martin