Miss Manners: Airline Rep’s Rudeness Accomplishes Nothing

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dear Miss Manners: After a long flight from overseas, my plane landed and I called my family to say that I had arrived safely. A few minutes after this phone call, and after going through customs, I realized that I had either left my phone on my seat or it had fallen out of my pocket when I went to retrieve my bag from the overhead compartment.

My phone had a case storing my credit card and driver’s license. As I could not return to the plane myself, I found a security guard, who found a representative from the airline to assist me.

Before I could explain what happened, she snapped, “How could you be so irresponsible and not check for all your valuables before leaving the flight?”

I was taken aback and could only mumble in response. I finally must have asked if there was anything that could be done. She said that she was not able to go to the plane and the only thing was to wait to see if the cleaning crew retrieved it.

Luckily, a few moments later, a different representative arrived with my phone. I thanked them politely and walked away.

However, I was so taken aback by this customer service rep. How should I have responded to her? I agree that I should have double-checked for my valuables before leaving the plane, but after a 10-hour flight, I was very tired and obviously, though unintentionally, overlooked it.

Gentle Reader: People are going to tell you that you are lucky they didn’t beat you up. And airline employees are going to tell you that you are the 112th person that day to forget something after their clear announcement about checking for personal belongings.

Nevertheless, this was unprofessional and rude. Those who take jobs dealing with the public should know how to deal with their own understandable exasperation. And as you had already failed to heed the warning, the representative accomplished nothing — except to get you to vow never to take that airline again (unless the flight is cheap and convenient).

Miss Manners would have said tersely, “Thank you for your courtesy” while checking the person’s nameplate.

Dear Miss Manners: Is it OK to have a money tree at a baby shower?

Gentle Reader: If you want the baby to grow up to be a little beggar who believes that money grows on trees.

Dear Miss Manners: On a visit with my niece, I brought a phone charger to plug in, but for some reason it did not function properly. With the hosts’ phones, mine, and those of the other houseguests, there were six phones in the house with only three or four cords, so charging was a “take turns” event.

While things went swimmingly in sharing, what would be the expected priority on who gets the charger? Houseguest, host, adults, children?

It would be nice to know for the next get-together, just in case. That way I could tell them, “Well, Miss Manners said!” Just kidding. Miss Manners has taught me not to be so uncouth!

Gentle Reader: Oh, no, you don’t. There isn’t going to be a next time, because you will have learned to check your cord before you leave home.

Decades ago, Miss Manners was plagued with questions about guests who tied up their hosts’ landlines and made expensive calls. Then people acquired cellphones — but not yet smartphones, tablets and laptops — and wanted to tie up their hosts’ computers.

Now we have easily portable electronics, and guests are responsible for bringing what they intend to use, just as they bring their own toothbrushes. It would be kind of hosts to provide emergency supplies of either, if they happen to have them.

A guest who has such an emergency should ask apologetically to borrow a cord when it does not inconvenience the family, including the children, and return it quickly. A houseguest, presumably staying longer, should run out to the nearest electronics store.

Dear Miss Manners: Is it rude to eat while walking in public? By “public,” I’m thinking of a mall or a sidewalk in a city.

I imagine the answer turns on what you are eating: hard candy, an energy bar, ice cream, an apple, french fries, a hot dog from a street vendor, a cheeseburger from a fast-food restaurant, etc. If the food matters, where, if at all, is the line to be drawn? Or is it just a matter of your eating neatly and being sure to properly dispose of any leftovers?

Gentle Reader: The European city to which Miss Manners retreats when she needs a major dose of public politeness has just outlawed the selling of food to be eaten on the streets, thus reducing trash, mess and smells. Very sensible, she believes.

She also agrees with the city’s one exception: ice cream. It doesn’t smell, the wrapping is edible, and it looks more cheerful than sloppy.

Dear Miss Manners: If you tell the cook the food is overdone, is it a insult?

Gentle Reader: The cook thinks so, and would have some choice words to say about your taste. That is why you should let the waiter deliver the message, along with the rejected food.

If there is no waiter involved, as in a personal setting, Miss Manners requires you to swallow the comment, if not the food.

Dear Miss Manners: How long do you stay at an office party at your boss’s house when you really just want to “make an appearance”?

I’m just not sure if there is a protocol as to how long “an appearance” is.

Gentle Reader: The minimum length of a decent appearance must pass the highly subjective test of not leaving the hosts feeling that the two necessary exchanges — the hosts’ greeting at the door, and the guests’ seeking them out to thank them — have merged.

It is unfortunately difficult to reduce this to a fixed number of minutes, although it is presumably shorter at a large party. This often means that staying longer than you feel is absolutely necessary is the only guide. Miss Manners prohibits cheating — such as taking leave of the husband, knowing that it was the wife who welcomed you.

Dear Miss Manners: I am a woman in my late 20s, who has been in a relationship with another woman for going on five years now. My family is not especially supportive, but there are times that I do receive formal invitations to events from extended family (think weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc.) that include my name and a plus-one.

My mother, who is vehemently unsupportive of my relationship, keeps trying to tell me that accepting a plus-one on an invitation is rude. She tells me that the people hosting the event are only giving me a plus-one to appear polite, and that if I bring someone else, it will cost the hosts money, so I shouldn’t accept it.

I’d like to think that my family members are showing passive support by offering me a plus-one, even if they are not listing my partner’s name on the invitation. In my opinion, an offering of a plus-one should always be seen as genuine!

My mother also insists that as maid of honor in my sister’s wedding, I was not supposed to bring a plus-one to the rehearsal dinner, despite other bridesmaids’ plus-ones being included. She is very concerned with politeness and appearances, so normally I do default to her, but given this dilemma, I am driven to ask you, Miss Manners, for your expertise and advice.

Gentle Reader: A misguided attempt to make their single guests feel more “comfortable,” plus-one communicates instead that the host does not want — or cannot be bothered — to find out the names of any serious partners.

Inviting anyone to a formal event should be done using that person’s name.

In your case, Miss Manners agrees that it was probably a passive — if still rude — attempt on your sister’s part to invite your partner without directly acknowledging her.

Your mother’s use of made-up etiquette rules is a passive way of rejecting that attempt. If your sister specifically asked you to invite someone, you may do so — and passively ignore your mother’s advice to do otherwise.

Miss Manners is written by Judith Martin, her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. You are invited to email your etiquette questions from www.missmanners.com.