DEAR MISS MANNERS: It has become so frequent as to be nearly ubiquitous these days that whenever I am called upon to pass some time in a doctor’s waiting room, I am required to at least listen to a television broadcast.
I write not to ask whether anything can be done about forcing television on captive audiences, but to inquire about whether there is a polite way to pass my waiting time without having to listen to the television, which is nearly always tuned to a news channel with whose political views I take issue.
On the other hand, informing the receptionist that I will choose to wait in the parking lot places an undue burden on the office staff when it is my turn to be called. Is there an acceptable alternative to simply putting up with it?
GENTLE READER: Possibly. Miss Manners has been in waiting rooms where everyone present was reading, dozing or playing with their telephones, and still the television droned on.
Offices that feel no compunction about keeping people waiting for long periods of time nevertheless do feel obliged to provide entertainment. As these offices’ previous idea of amusement was to provide old issues of pharmaceutical magazines, they probably consider television to be a bold step into the new media world.
Your first line of defense should be to ask those present whether anyone is watching. If several people are, you are stuck. If only one or two are, you can ask whether they would mind moving closer to the set so that they could hear it with the volume turned down. But if no one answers, you will be a heroine if you ask the receptionist if you may turn it off.
A refusal should justify your asking for a quiet place to wait and supplying your telephone number for a summons.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is a gracious way of deflecting questions about my voting intentions in the coming election? And what of circumstances where my would-be interrogators do not pick up on gentle attempts to steer the conversation to a less divisive and explosive topic?
GENTLE READER: Then you address the one they started.
No, not to answer it — Miss Manners said to address it. You could do this by turning it into a conversation, instead of a quiz.
“Isn’t it strange,” you might ask, “that the secret ballot must have been intended to protect us from the powerful, and now it protects us from one another? I’ve seen people who I thought had the highest respect for each other becoming alienated simply because they have honest political disagreements. Do you find that people who disagree with you have more rancor about it than they used to?”
Of course, you will say all this pleasantly, without emphasizing the implication that you will turn angry and disrespectful if your interrogator’s politics turn out not to be identical with yours.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: After my son’s funeral, a woman came to me and requested she get the flowers back that she had brought to the service. I thought this was extremely tacky! What would you have done?
GENTLE READER: Probably just looked at her with tears welling up and said nothing before walking sadly away.
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