Q: I feel intimidated and insulted (perhaps assaulted) by everyone and their cameras. Everywhere I go lately, everybody is taking pictures with their cameras and phones. It’s a constant barrage, and then, “Look! Look! How do you like this one? HAHAHA! Let’s do it again. Oh, now it’s my turn.” On and on and on. I am not crazy about having my picture taken to begin with. And now there is the concern about what they are going to do with it. I don’t want to end up on someone’s social media page. How can I tell people politely that I feel like they are compromising my privacy and ruining a good time? I feel totally all right with the old practice of a picture or photo from time to time. It is just this barrage of “candid” shots that makes me want to hide out!
Miss Manners says: Reasonable as your point is, it is unlikely to be taken well. Either you will yourself be accused of ruining a good time, or the image of you scowling disapprovingly as you lecture the photographer will turn out to be just the candid snapshot the offender was hoping for. Better to render the photograph itself uninteresting. Miss Manners recommends a bored smile accompanied by turning away to notice something off in the distance.
Your Head Bitch says: I must say, I share your disdain for candid pictures. Your Head Bitch once had a coworker who spent the evening of a party taking pictures of everyone when they least suspected it, and then emailed them to all of us the next morning with the subject line “some great pictures from last night.” Unfortunately, on further examination, it turned out that these “great” pictures of all of us included a picture of me so unspeakably horrifying that I attempted to delete it from the computers of as many people as possible before they all arrived at the office. I was not amused.
But — and prepare yourself, this is a big but — that doesn’t mean that you should automatically suspiciously assume that the people you willingly associate with have some nefarious plan in mind when they take pictures of you. Sometimes people just want to have pictures of the fun things they do with their friends. It’s nothing to be intimidated by, all you have to do is smile and pretend to be (or, god forbid, actually be) having a good time. If you don’t want to be in the pictures, then offer to take them. The whole thing is more sweet than anything else, if you really think about it, and it’s not actually harming you in any way. So chill the fuck out out and set up your facebook so that you have to approve any pictures posted by other people of you, like a normal person.
You KNOW this guy is glad he has to approve pictures before they go on his page.
Q: How would one interpret an invitation that states, “This is an adult-oriented event. Chaperoned children are welcome”?
Miss Manners says: “We really don’t want children at the party, but if you bring them anyway, they’d better not be loud or break anything.”
Your Head Bitch says: Frankly, it probably means that they didn’t want to invite children at all, but someone’s mom put their foot down and declared that was a rude thing to do. Which it’s actually not — it’s your party and you can invite who you want to, as they say. Some events, maybe even most, if we’re being honest, are improved by children not being present. I say take the hint, hire a sitter and enjoy a night out without the kids for once.
No, don’t worry, this is EXACTLY the ambiance we were going for at our cocktail party.
Q: I was saddened to read a newspaper article in which a pregnant lady attempted to get a seat in the subway and failed a number of times, despite seats being reserved for this purpose (and for seniors, people with disabilities, etc.). This is certainly unfortunate, but I can’t help but think that there may be an additional explanation besides just lack of courtesy. After all, there’s a competing social norm that prohibits one from inferring a stranger’s pregnancy. Imagine the embarrassment of attempting to give up one of the reserved seats to a lady, only to have her tell you she’s not pregnant! Could there be another solution? Perhaps if the pregnant ladies made some obvious gesture such as putting one hand maternally on their belly while trying to catch someone’s eye? I think that would make it much easier for the polite among us to give up our seats without fear. However, I don’t want to add to, as it were, the burden.
Miss Manners says: As the lady in question may need both hands to hold on in a moving subway car, let us not add to her burden with unnecessary gesturing. Stand and ask her if she would like your seat. If she does not want or need it, Miss Manners hopes she will politely decline. If she responds rudely (“What makes you think I need it?”) you need only re-seat yourself and continue your journey.
Your Head Bitch says: Really? I have absolutely no trouble believing that a pregnant woman wasn’t immediately given a seat on the subway. Unless you’re like basically fucking in labor people either feel weird asking or, more likely, don’t care. This is one of the few things the London transit system has figured out infinitely better than New York — they have buttons you can get to wear when you are pregnant to spare people the awkwardness of asking. Even if it does stem from the incredibly weird issues the British have about talking to people they don’t know, it’s genius, and we’d all be a lot better off if more cities offered a service like that.
But the issue is bigger than that. Unless you are also old/handicapped/pregnant, you should be offering your seat to people who are. Period. While some people are incredibly attentive to the people around them — shout out to the dude on the A train who once offered me his seat just because “he didn’t feel comfortable sitting while ladies were standing,” and god bless your mother — most people could give a fuck who is standing near them. This is shitty, selfish behavior. Look, I’m not a monster. I know you’re tired, and cranky and just want to get home at the end of the day. But sometimes, you just have to accept that there are people who need a seat more than you do. Lead by example, BPBTY readers! I can’t promise it won’t suck a little having to stand on the way home, but I can promise you that old ladies will pat you on the arm and call you dear and that people around you will think you are a better person than them. And isn’t that payment enough?
Bonus points if you do it with a dramatic arm flourish like this gentleman.
Q: I underwent a breast augmentation surgery during the summer, when I was off work anyway for holidays, so I didn’t need to explain to any co-workers why I wasn’t at work. Some friends and family were aware before, but otherwise I consider it a completely private matter. I’m surprised to find how many acquaintances and co-workers have asked me about my breasts. (It was a modest increase and I dress very modestly as well . . . although even if I didn’t, I don’t think that would excuse them from asking.) Is there some way I can save face in front of people when they ask me if I’m on a new birth control, wearing a new bra or if I’ve had surgery? I don’t want to lie, but I also feel like it’s none of their business.
Miss Manners says: Really? You feel that the size of your breasts is none of your co-workers’ business? In that case, Miss Manners would expect you to have a bit more conviction about rebuffing these inquiries. They do not arise from compassionate concern about your health. They are lewd, as well as nosy, and the correct response is nothing more than a frosty “I beg your pardon!” followed by a silent stare. Far from being meant literally, those words are an indication that the questioners should beg yours.
Your Head Bitch says: Girl. It IS none of their business. Nobody ever has the right to just bring up your boobs in casual conversation, let alone people you hardly know. Would anyone EVER walk up to a dude at the office and say, “Hey, your dick is looking a little bigger today! What’s going on there?” No. It’s an insane violation of your right to live your life without people talking about your bits all the time, and it seems to come from the weirdly pervasive notion that all women’s bodies are open to comment and criticism from anyone within commenting distance. They are not. Fuck that shit. Look them dead in the eye and say, “That’s an incredibly rude question and I’m going to do us both a favor and pretend you didn’t ask it.” And if anyone implies that you should expect this kind of nonsense because you made the personal decision to go up a cup size, you have my express permission to punch that person directly in the throat.
Boob jobs: Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Q: On more than one occasion, I have heard a woman say, “We’re pregnant!” when referring to the fact that the couple is expecting a baby. My in-laws will even say, “Did you hear that John and Jane are pregnant?” I think that phrasing it in such a way is ridiculous, and I often find myself responding in a manner such as, “Wow, he’s pregnant, too?” How should I respond to statements such as this, when it is so obvious that the woman is the only one who is pregnant?
Miss Manners says: While it is plainly unfair that mothers should have to do all of the childbearing, Miss Manners, like you, has noticed that such is the reality. Presumably the plural is used to make the point that this unevenness does not extend to child-rearing, as it might if the child were merely some little project of the mother’s. But fatuous is not rude, and your response should be merely to offer congratulations.
Your Head Bitch says: Look, far be it from me to object to linguistic specificity. But seriously, Captain Buzzkill, the correct response to your friend telling you she is pregnant, no matter how she phrases it, is “Congratulations!” Everyone recognizes that your friend’s husband is not pregnant. You’re not pointing out some earth shattering thing that no one else has noticed. Instead, you’re being that friend who snarks “Which one?” when someone mentions they got their hair cut. Except that yours is worse, because getting a haircut is not a major life changing experience that (some) people dream about for years. They’re in it together, they’re raising the kid together, so you can be happy for them together. Don’t let your need to be right prevent you from being a good friend, ok?
This is NOT to say that if your friend wants to do an awkward pregnancy photoshoot (which, why god, why?) you shouldn’t do everything in your power to talk her out of it. Because you ARE right about that.
Q: Our small township of about 5,000 people has a township cemetery. This year, for the first time, township officials are planning a “scavenger hunt” in the cemetery for both adults and kids during a festival-type event the town is having. In my mind, a cemetery is a place for respect and quiet for the dead and grieving, not for fun and games, where kids are running around on top of the graves. We have a younger generation of township officials overseeing this; the older ones never did such things. Am I wrong and rude to object?
Miss Manners says: This is one more bit of evidence that, as Miss Manners has always suspected, everyone nowadays wants to be in show business. It seems far more likely that the planners were thinking, “What a wonderful set the cemetery would make for our festival,” rather than, “Let’s all have a romp on Grandma’s grave.” You might explain to the would-be producers that while you see the charm of their proposal, they need to avoid the bad feeling that would result were a living relative of one of the deceased to complain that the scavenger hunt would be a desecration. Suggest they send a letter to all possible survivors, explaining why the contemplated festivities would not constitute disrespect. Your officials may find it easier to change the venue.
Your Head Bitch says: I thought a scavenger hunt was one of those things where you ran all over town looking for various random items? I imagine one would run out of “random items” in a cemetery quickly. Find a gravestone. Find some flowers. The end. In any case, you’re right, frolicking over the bodies of your town’s ancestors is not a great image, and is a damn good way for someone to end up haunted if you ask me. Would people allow a scavenger hunt to be arranged at Arlington National Cemetery? No. Then it shouldn’t be allowed at any cemetery. You are absolutely not out of line in expressing your discomfort to the officials who planned this particular shindig, though you might get more of a response if you found a few others in the community to express their desire to see the location changed as well. That probably shouldn’t be too hard, as it is genuinely disrespectful and if we’ve all learned anything from movies, it’s that absolutely no good ever comes of people messing about in graveyards.
"Yes! What delicious fun it will be for the children to play here!" they thought.
Q: I’ve noticed a trend where some of my friends tip as much as 50 percent (on tax, too). Even new tipping “apps” have calculation options up to 50 percent. I always thought if the service was outstanding that 20 percent (not on tax) was more than generous. Am I behind the times, or just a cheapskate?
Miss Manners says: Your friends are very generous to people who are woefully underpaid. And as employers knowingly underpay them, expecting the customers to make up the difference, everyone in the industry has an interest in raising the rates. Miss Manners would have thought that using percentages to calculate tips would ensure increases with the cost of living. However, as you know, the usual rate has crept up to 20 percent, with something more or less depending on the type of establishment. She has no wish to discourage additional largesse. But that is dictated by the heart and the wallet, not by etiquette.
Your Head Bitch says: I should preface this by saying that I am absolutely maniacal about tipping, as I think are most people who have ever worked in the restaurant industry at one time or another. I once started a fight with a very dear friend for under-tipping when really he just hadn’t finished his math yet (sorry, Ryan!). Working in a restaurant is hard, exhausting, dirty, thankless work, and the people who do it are criminally underpaid and lack basic access to healthcare or anything resembling “worker’s rights,” but in most cases have very few other options. You want to know why Your Head Bitch got fired from my last (god willing) restaurant job? For asking for Christmas Day off, 3 months in advance. So. Tip your waiters, is what I’m saying.
Now, 50% is perhaps a bit extreme, though I can see doing something like that if, say, you only ordered an $8 sandwich and your waitress was really fantastic. The standard, that is to say, the minimum you should be tipping in major cities is 20%, though I understand that in smaller towns 15-18% is still considered standard. I still tip 20% regardless, because of all the reasons I outlined in the first part of this answer. And don’t even get me started on not tipping on tax, which is not only dumb but just makes the math harder for yourself. The person serving you probably needs that $.45 more than you do, ok? Tipping should be included in the cost of what you’re expecting to pay when you go out to eat, and if you can’t or don’t want to pay that you should cook at home instead. Just be generous in the way you think about tipping. Round uneven amounts up. Remember that from what you give to the waitress, 5% also goes to the busboy. These are people who are just trying to get by, and the polite thing to do is to tip them the standard rate. More is certainly not expected, but a little good karma — if you can afford it — never hurts, right?
Just keep it in mind.
Q: What is the proper protocol when speaking with someone who has a stutter? Is it considered helpful or rude to assist him in completing a sentence or question?
Miss Manners says: How can you assist someone in completing his or her statement unless you already know what that person was intending to say? And if you already know what is going to be said, why bother holding a conversation? So yes, it is considered rude to finish other people’s sentences. And Miss Manners wants it to be clear that this applies not only to stutterers, but to spouses as well.
Your Head Bitch says: Yeah, no, that’s rude. You might as well wear a t-shirt that says “It would really be a lot better for me if this conversation was over faster.” People who stutter have enough problems to deal with without you interrupting them and making them feel rushed and self conscious so that you can move along to talking to someone else sooner. People speak at the pace they speak, deal with it. And whenever anyone is speaking to you, no matter who they are, you should do the polite, human, thing and give them your full attention for the duration of whatever it is they are trying to say.
This is what they will want to say to you. And you’ll deserve it.