DEAR MISS MANNERS: I fly frequently on business and, as often as possible, book a seat in the exit row for the additional room needed to work while in flight.
On two recent flights, I boarded the aircraft to find another passenger in my seat who asked if I would “mind changing seats” so a couple or family could sit together. Even though the seats proffered in exchange had less space and inhibited my ability to use the time to its best advantage, I acquiesced on both occasions.
While I am somewhat troubled by their presumption in occupying the seat first and asking later, I am more troubled by my own inability to come up with a polite way to refuse their requests. Can you assist, please?
GENTLE READER: Yes, but you must promise Miss Manners not to amend her answer with excuses about needing to get work done. Surely you do not want to suggest that your work is more important than their family — at least not to parents who are already frazzled by traveling with children.
The polite way to refuse is to say, “I’m so sorry, but I would prefer to keep my assigned seat.” Although the flier should not have first occupied your seat, it was not impolite to ask you to switch seats. There is also nothing impolite about refusing. It is then up to you to maintain the courage of your convictions while sitting next to a sad-eyed 5-year-old on a six-hour flight.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Every December, I sit down with my address book and write holiday greetings to those near and far. I inquire about family members, comment on recent events, share news of my own life, etc. In essence, each card is a short letter.
I am always delighted to receive cards from others, but I am often disappointed with what I receive. Inside a beautiful card, addressed by hand, is often only the following: “Dear (name), Happy Holidays! (Sender name)”
Am I wrong for thinking that sending cards like this is improper? To me, it feels like sending someone a carefully wrapped box without anything inside. But it seems to be in vogue. Am I missing something? Have I misunderstood the tradition?
GENTLE READER: Which tradition? Yours is charming, but a mere greeting, with a real signature, is not improper. It is a bit like saying “Hi” in passing, rather than stopping to chat.
Miss Manners suspects that the annual one-on-one catching-up that you so graciously do will become even more rare. People who have been posting their every move and meal on social media all year don’t have that much left to tell.
She urges you to keep alive the traditional concept — not so much that of reporting on yourself, although you will include that, but of asking after others. That is what has been lost in the epidemic of “sharing.”
Perhaps your correspondents will appreciate your interest enough to respond in kind. In any case, you will have shown them that greetings can go beyond “Hi” or the “Like” button.