Miss Manners: I am distracted by background noise during business calls

Dear Miss Manners: The pandemic has altered life in many ways, perhaps permanently. One change that is grating on my nerves is basic telephone courtesy.

With so many of us working from home, it is now common to be on a business call while listening to dogs barking, babies crying or dishes being washed in the background. One person I work with seems to call me only while she is munching on her lunch. I suppose these callers aren’t aware of how distracting these sounds are.

I had to ask one client to call back when he was through at the gym because the sound of someone doing reps on a machine was so off-putting: wheeze, grunt, bang, wheeze, grunt, bang — constantly repeating in the background. He was cool about it, but was I out of line? Are we supposed to accept this inconsideration as the new normal?

Lunch munching and gym wheezing are indeed extremes. ( “Lunch Munching and Gym Wheezing” would also be an excellent name for a cartoon show.)

But, Miss Manners points out, none of us is exempt from the occasional barking dog or wayward car alarm when we are working from home, even if the sound is from across the street. She therefore suggests a simple, non-accusatory, “Why don’t I call you back at a better time?” And then hope like mad that there is one.

Dear Miss Manners: I have a co-worker who is obsessed with a particular movie series that came out when they were younger. They love to talk about it, which is fine. I have seen them get very defensive, even a bit angry, when someone said they didn’t care for the series.

When I was asked the other day for my opinion, I avoided the topic, because I personally do not like the movies. We work at a small company, and it can be obvious when avoiding just one person. How do I best tell them that I’m not interested in that subject?

“If you don’t want to hear my opinion, then you probably shouldn’t ask.”

Dear Miss Manners: My nephew is getting married soon. I received the wedding invitation, and it says “vegetarian or vegan with special dietary request.” My nephew’s family are all meat eaters; none are vegetarian or vegan. I found it odd. Usually vegetarian/vegan options are special request.

Do I mention it? Or is meat a special dietary request? It’s a new world, so I wasn’t sure.

I was thinking that I would just go along with it and eat a big lunch beforehand. His grandma thought it was funny.

Grandma would find it even funnier if you penciled in that your special dietary request was meat.

But your hosts will not be so amused. Miss Manners suggests that you and Grandma therefore make plans to eat your big ol’ slab o’ cow beforehand or afterward — and keep the humor of the whole situation to yourselves.

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

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