DEAR MISS MANNERS: I heard a funny story from a friend who took another friend, “Alice,” out for dinner at a nice but casual French restaurant.
Alice found a hair in her roasted chicken dish. Having alerted the waitress, she was offered a profuse apology, assured the meal would not be put on the bill and was asked how long she would be willing to wait for a new dish. Alice thanked the waitress and said that no new dish was required.
When the waitress had retreated, Alice turned to my friend and said, “Is it OK to eat it or not?” She did eat it, and she loved it.
Now I am curious to find out what the correct response would have been. Can you help me?
GENTLE READER: Your friend’s friend’s manners, as well as her dinner, are in need of a trim.
Warning the staff that the food is contaminated is, to a reputable restaurant, only slightly less worrisome than screaming “fire!” It is equally likely to empty the dining room, albeit on a different time scale. Neither the staff nor the fellow diners would find much comfort in subsequent assurances that it is only a small fire.
Even if she was not squeamish about the chicken, she should have considered the impact on others by informing the staff quietly and setting the dish aside. As to your friend’s options, Miss Manners believes only one remained: looking green and asking to be excused for not feeling hungry.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I use text messages to ask and answer specific questions or to relay information. For conversations, I use telephone calls.
A former graduate student recently contacted me via text message, and I was really enjoying catching up. If we had been conversing via phone, I would have known the cues that indicated whether and when she wanted / she needed to wind the conversation down.
Being in the dark about the conventions of messaging, I asked her to let me know when I was carrying the “conversation” overlong. Then I asked her a few more questions about her life her to let her know that I was n’t hinting that I needed to end our chat.
She didn’t respond. At all. Could you advise me if I need to do something differently in the future?
GENTLE READER: There is a tendency to think that new technology requires entirely new etiquette, when the truth is more incremental.
The telephone conditioned us to provide verbal cues (“I’m so sorry, but I really have to go”) to replace the nonverbal ones (anxious, furtive glances at the clock).
The biggest etiquette consequence of texting derives from its immediacy: Conversations can have lacunae when, unbeknownst to the other party, the train arrives at the station or the doorbell rings. One could offer to “be right back,” but it is also permitted to suspend the conversation for later resumption.
None of which requires a modification of your behavior — though your student, if she had no intention of returning to the conversation, should have indicated that she was signing off.