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Miss Manners: ‘Is this a good time?’ can now be asked via text

Dear Miss Manners: I was taught that at the beginning of any phone call I make, it is polite to ask whether my friend is busy. I always ask, "Are you busy now?" or "Do you have time to talk?"

However, many people who call launch directly into conversation without asking. It seemed to happen even more during the pandemic, when many of us were lonely and wanted to talk with a friend.

I realize I can simply interrupt the caller and have done so on a few occasions. I would like to be given the courtesy of being asked.

Technology has changed the experience of telephoning and being telephoned, much for the better. But Miss Manners notes that it has overtaken the need for some of the old courtesies.

Once, the ring of the telephone was considered an imperative summons. It was rude to demand attention without regard to the convenience of the person being called. But as one didn’t know who was calling, it was considered best not to take a chance on missing something important.

Now, not only do we know who is calling, we can set different rings for different callers, or turn off the ring entirely. Knowing that we all have other demands on our time, no one should be insulted at having to leave a message (but yes, some of them still are).

The increasingly prevalent belief is that less-intrusive communication tools should be used if there is not a reason that real-time speaking is necessary. If you think you are in danger of interrupting someone who nevertheless answers all calls, you might text your polite inquiry: “Would this be a good time to talk?”

Dear Miss Manners: My longtime friend is grieving the loss of her husband to covid. I am trying to be supportive by calling, checking on her and just listening.

We all miss him, and I am sure his other relatives are grieving, as well. My friend is seeking professional counseling. In the meantime, she is getting advice from family members. Some of it is questionable, but I am doing my best to listen and not cause more strife.

However, some of this advice is shocking to me. What is a polite response to the sister-in-law who tells the widow to "put on her big-girl pants"? That she should let my friend grieve as long as she needs?

Well, yes. It is hard to fathom the sister-in-law’s cruelty.

But thoughtless people often do think they can push the bereaved to banish their emotions. The bereaved are routinely berated to hurry through what are blithely described as “stages,” to reach something called “closure.” On anniversaries, they may be described as “still mourning,” as if that is surprising.

Miss Manners’ reply would be, “I hope you never have to experience such unrelenting grief.” And she would say it coldly enough to make the point that the sister-in-law does not know what she is talking about.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

2021, by Judith Martin