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Miss Manners: They’re on the wrong side of the street — or am I?



Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I walk almost daily. During this coronavirus shelter-in-place time, there are many more people out walking.

Our understanding is that you walk facing traffic. However, many people are walking with traffic. When we encounter them, we always move away to give the proper social distancing, and they sometimes look at us like we are the protocol violators.

Are we? Can you please educate us (and them) on the proper side of the road to walk on?

If you are walking in the street itself, moving six feet away would put you smack into the middle of traffic. This is not a good idea — even now, when there are fewer cars on the road. Miss Manners hopes you will find a safer path.

On sidewalks, moving over six feet would also go into traffic on one side, or onto someone’s property on the other. So it is incumbent on both parties to move, three feet each.

But how do you encourage others to do their part? Well, not by shouting, “Move!” with or without expletives. Discourtesy only adds to the distress.

First, you move as far as you safely can. Then smile and perform the gesture that a theatrical headwaiter would use to accompany his saying, “This way, please, madam, sir.” It is an arm swing, with open palm and the arm moving from a vertical position to a horizontal one.

Practice, and do not omit the unctuous smile. People do not shoot accusing looks at headwaiters.

Dear Miss Manners: My wife and I are elderly, and we are often asked, “How long have you guys been together?”

This is usually directed to my wife, who has some cognitive issues that I believe the questioner has perceived. People who ask such questions to someone they suspect has cognitive issues are, in my opinion, low forms of humanity, and do not deserve a polite answer.

My wife usually hesitates and looks to me to help her out, asking “How long?” If they both insist, I turn, give the coldest expression I can muster and mutter, “I don’t remember.”

This ends the matter, but if it happens to be two women together asking the rude question, they start whispering to each other that I am a grouch.

Yes, that was grouchy of you, and silly of them. But “low forms of humanity”? Oh, please.

These ladies were not even really interested in your conjugal history. They were just trying, awkwardly, to make conversation. If they had any recognition of your wife’s problem, they might have posed their question on the assumption that long-term memory may survive when the short-term does not.

What should you have answered?

“Not long enough.”

Dear Miss Manners: In business correspondence, when I don’t have a name, I begin with “Dear Madam/Sir.” However, these days, not everyone is binary. Should I add “GF person” (as in gender-fluid), or “Human” or …? Please guide me in being up-to-the-minute respectful.

You are to be commended for wanting to be inclusive. However, there are so many possibilities to consider that Miss Manners fears that an all-inclusive salutation would take up the entire paper, leaving no room for the content.

So: “Dear Client,” “Dear Acme Toilet Paper Company” or “To the Customer Service Department.”

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

2020, by Judith Martin



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