Dear Miss Manners: I take the train to New York City to work and the ride is approximately an hour. Yesterday a man sitting next to me played with a bunch of coins the entire time – moving them from one hand to the other, making an annoying noise.
Because the train ride is relatively short and I don’t feel it’s my place to ask others to stop, I said nothing. But if the train ride were, say, two hours, I would have lost my mind if I hadn’t asked him to stop. Does the duration of the infraction affect how impolite it would be for me to ask the man to stop?
Gentle Reader: No, only if your mounting irritation might make your reaction uncivil. If you find the noise unbearable, try gently warning the gentleman that especially in New York it’s never a good idea to draw attention to one’s money.
If he’s a true New Yorker, he will be so wounded by the insinuation that he is not a native that Miss Manners trusts he will be silenced into submission by the shock.
How to rebuff?
Dear Miss Manners: My younger brother is half African-American. His fair wife is Anglo-Irish. They have three small sons, all blond and blue-eyed.
My brother takes them out on Saturday mornings so his wife can sleep in, and as no good deed goes unpunished, on these outings he is often accosted by strangers demanding to know the parentage of the children and denying they could possibly be his. He is usually quite patient and good-natured, but occasionally the queries become vehemently accusatory, as if he is suspected of abducting the wee laddies and nefariously nannying them in the coffeehouse, grocery store or park.
One never wishes to be rude, and so one turns to Miss Manners, to seek an effective rebuff.
Gentle Reader: If these inquiries are becoming attacks, your brother would be more than justified to say, “I’m sorry, but you are upsetting my children” as he changes seats or hurries the little ones off in another direction. This should make it obvious that it is the accusers, and not he, who is the real threat to his children’s well-being.
As a side note, Miss Manners can’t help but caution you against the mindset that refers to a fatherly outing as a “good deed.” A parent does not baby-sit his own children, but one who thinks he does could well lead others to suspicions of his being a stranger to them.
This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s daughter, Jacobina Martin. Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.