Miss Manners: Is it rude to ask someone to use headphones in public?

Dear Miss Manners: Here is an issue for our times: I was in a coffee bar recently, and a person sitting a few feet away from me was listening to some sort of recorded content on his mobile phone without the benefit of headphones. It was annoying, particularly on top of the shop’s programmed music and other face-to-face conversations taking place.

After a while, I asked, in a very polite and civil manner, “Sir, do you happen to have ear buds or headphones that you could use?” He bristled slightly and said that he didn’t realize the sound was annoying, then simply shut the device off, for which I thanked him.

Is what I did within the bounds of reasonable and polite behavior? While I would never question someone’s right to engage in a face-to-face conversation or telephone call in this situation, my feeling is that playing anything loud enough for someone else to hear amounts to forcing your choice on others, and is therefore inconsiderate. I would appreciate your thoughts on the issue.

Certainly this is rude. Bristle as this young man might, you did nothing wrong by politely and reasonably asking him to use headphones in a public place. In fact, Miss Manners assures you, you likely saved him from a ruder patron’s much more indignant objections.

Dear Miss Manners: My closest friend has been helping a healthy 92-year-old man clear possessions from his house over the course of a year, beginning after the great loss of his wife. He has given my friend a number of personal items.

Over this time, my friend has mentioned me as a very dear friend, and the man he is helping is inclined to share a piece of jewelry with me. It is a vintage designer piece — a choker, I believe. I am happy to receive it as a loving response to his loss.

I will likely see photos of the jewelry before actually receiving it — or even meeting him. Should I acknowledge and thank him before receiving the piece of jewelry? And I would imagine I should formally thank him again after receiving and wearing it.

I believe there is no protocol for the preemptive acknowledgment of a gift. It will be at least three months before I receive it, after he has placed it in my friend’s hands to deliver to me. I am a most sincere and constant writer of formal thank-you notes, so you might understand my dilemma.

No one ever complained about too many thank-you letters. Well, only if they were bemoaning their own deficiencies in writing them, of course. And fortunately, you do not complain about that.

Miss Manners therefore thinks it would be charming for you to write a letter to your friend’s friend, introducing yourself and telling him how honored you are to be the recipient of a piece of his departed wife’s jewelry. Then, when you finally receive the gift, you could write another (shorter) letter, acknowledging receipt and saying that it is even more beautiful in person.

There is no reason not to give this kind gentleman some good reading material in exchange for his generosity.

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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