DEAR MISS MANNERS: In place of “sir,” “madam” and “miss,” how should one address a nonbinary person or a person whose gender is unknown when you don’t know their name?
I once asked this of a friend with a nonbinary child, and she became very defensive, insisting that saying “excuse me” was a good enough way to address someone. I just don’t think “excuse me” conveys the respect I want to afford a stranger, nor does it go beyond getting someone’s attention.
GENTLE READER: “Sir,” “madam,” “ma’am” and “miss” all fail to narrow down the particulars, either — and run equal risk of offending: “I’m too young to be a ma’am!” or “Don’t define me by my marital status!” being the most common (and rude) retorts.
Miss Manners will do her part in asking everyone to calm down and exercise tolerance when it comes to these inaccurate guesses. But if we can avoid guessing altogether, that would also be helpful. She therefore defends your friend’s option — if not its defensive delivery — of simply saying “Excuse me.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Aloha! I’ve hosted many houseguests over the years, most with no problems, but occasionally I’ve had a few bad ones. How do you handle people who come into your home and totally rearrange everything to suit themselves?
I believe in being as accommodating and hospitable as I can. But I had two incidents of people who wanted everything their way: “We’re vegetarians, so you can’t keep any animal products in the house while we’re there,” for instance, and, “We like our bed facing a certain way,” so they rearranged all the furniture in their room. The couch didn’t “look right” to them, and when I returned from being out one day, my whole living room was rearranged to their liking.
I always get coffee ready the night before, so it starts automatically and is ready by 7 a.m. or so. This was an inconvenience for them, as they don’t drink it or like the smell. The list continued. They made all the plans, picked all the restaurants and meal times and expected me to pay.
I tell everyone who stays with me, “Help yourself to anything you want. If you’re hungry, go eat.” But, no, with these people I was expected to make any food they wanted, even a sandwich.
At what point do you finally put your foot down and respectfully but firmly tell them they’ve overstepped their bounds? I know it’d cause tension, but I’ve always been respectful when I’m invited to a friend’s home to stay.
Living in Hawaii, many people want to come to stay with you for the free room and board, but some people just don’t have any concept of taking advantage of a friend’s hospitality.
GENTLE READER: At what point do you put an end to this madness, you ask? Sometime in between their dictating what food you can keep in your house and their rearranging your furniture.
Miss Manners suggests that you tell them: “I am so sorry that our house is not to your liking, but while we want you to be comfortable, we’re keeping it the way it is. I know of some wonderful hotels nearby, however, that only charge a nominal fee for eliminating any wayward coffee smells.”
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, [email protected]; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.