Miss Manners: Navigating the Perplexing Conundrums of Modern Etiquette

Issues of Misgendering in Customer Service

In an era of expanding gender awareness, an intriguing issue has arisen: customer service representatives sometimes misgender customers during phone interactions. A case in point is Rosalind, a woman with a deep voice and a direct manner of speaking. Despite having a traditionally female first name, she is often addressed as “sir” when speaking with call center employees, a situation she finds troubling.

The offense stems not from any perceived rudeness or malice on the part of the customer service representative, but rather the assumptions made based on her voice. When corrected with a rather sharp, “Don’t assume!”, the representatives usually apologize. Still, Rosalind finds the entire situation unsatisfactory.

Advisors from the world-renowned Miss Manners column suggest a different approach to such misunderstandings. Instead of responding confrontationally, Rosalind could respond by gently saying, “Actually, I prefer ‘madam.'” They note that while it would be ideal for representatives to get it right the first time, the misaddressing and subsequent apology suggest no intent to offend.

Proper Usage of Paper Napkins

In a different vein, Miss Manners also tackled the proper etiquette surrounding paper napkins. Unlike their more robust cloth counterparts, paper napkins present a conundrum, particularly due to their size and fragility. Should they still be spread across one’s lap, despite their intended use in more casual dining scenarios?

Miss Manners recommends maintaining the tradition of placing the napkin on the lap. The only exception to this rule is in cases where a gust of wind may send the napkin flying. To prevent such a situation, she humorously suggests partially sitting on the napkin. However, she also approves any other method of securing the napkin, as long as it remains out of sight and she is not told about it.

The Politics of Public Transportation

Another reader expressed dissatisfaction with their experiences on the subway. On two separate occasions, they found themselves sandwiched between two individuals engaged in conversation, despite the clear indication that the individuals were together.

When the reader politely offered to swap seats to enable the continuation of the conversation without any awkwardness, the respondents oddly replied, “That’s okay, I don’t mind,” and continued conversing across the reader. Understandably annoyed by the situation, the reader then proceeded to point out the bad manners of the interlocutors, to which they expressed surprise and a certain amount of indignation.

Miss Manners suggests that in such situations, the reader could phrase their initial offer in a way that is less antagonistic and potentially more effective. Instead of offering to switch seats as a favor to the interlocutors, a simple request like “Could we please switch seats?” could yield better results.

In conclusion, modern etiquette continues to evolve and adapt to our changing social landscape. While certain issues might seem perplexing or challenging, they can often be resolved with understanding, grace, and a modicum of tact. For more on this topic, visit the Miss Manners column on the Washington Post.