Miss Manners: My friend constantly interrupts me. What can I do?
Even constant interrupters occasionally check for a physical or verbal affirmation to see that their audience is still with them. Think of your friend as a wild animal looking for a meal: These checks are her way of making sure you are a suitable audience (meal) because you are still listening (alive).
If you assume an attentive, beatific, static and, above all, silent smile (play dead), she will lose interest and either wander off or ask what you think of what she just said.
The answer to the latter is: “Very interesting. I just was not sure if you were finished.”
This eventually works on even the wildest humans, which Miss Manners knows from having spent a great deal of time observing them in their natural habitat. Not having spent much time in the woods, she makes no similar claim about actual wild animals — no matter how chatty they may be.
Dear Miss Manners: I don’t drink coffee. I have no objection to it, I just have never liked it. But I am a tea drinker.
Some friends acknowledge this; others don’t — and who, truly, can keep track of all the likes and dislikes of our friends? I don’t mind.
So, after a meal at the home of friends, whether old or new, when coffee (and only coffee) is offered, I always decline. However, I long for a cup of something to join the rest. Usually I just sip from my water glass, but that’s difficult if coffee is served away from the dinner table.
I always have tea bags in my purse — a habit from years of traveling for work. When offered coffee, could I reply that I don’t drink coffee, but ask whether I could have a cup of hot water, because I have a tea bag to use?
I did this once, some time back, and was told by the hostess that she had no means of boiling water — even though a microwave and stove were in the kitchen — but that she could give me some water from the faucet. It made a lousy cup of tea.
The etiquette rule that prevents guests from asking for things not offered is not absolute.
You can ask whether there is pepper when offered salt. You can ask for mustard when there is ketchup. And you can ask for tea when there is coffee — without, please, offering your own tea bag.
Miss Manners also allows guests to ask for water, so long as they do not tell us about the pills they are taking, and for the bathroom, so long as they do not tell us why they need one.
In all such cases, the question should be phrased apologetically, and a negative answer received gracefully. In no case should the guests offer their own solutions — although, in the bathroom example, they may need to apologize for an early, hasty departure.
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.