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“If somebody holds two doors for you in a row, do you thank him/her twice? (Up to you.) How do you handle a foil-clad baked potato? (Peel the foil off, but don’t crumple it into a ball.) On the morning of their departure, is it rude for the hostess to bowl into her guests’ bedroom, rip the sheets off the mattress, and suggest they leave early in order not to miss their plane? (Er, yes.) What should you say at a restaurant if your sister-in-law starts shoveling condiment packets into her purse?(“You know, you could get into trouble doing that.”)”

–Mark Caldwell, quoting Elizabeth Post, in A Short History of Rudeness


Dear Miss Manners,

My husband always hijacks my stories. I will be in the middle of telling our friends about something that happened, and Hank will butt in and say I’m not telling the story right. I do embellish my stories, but that’s not the same as lying. Hank thinks I’m a liar. So he starts correcting me, and I ignore him, but then he’s talking over me and he usually ends up finishing the story. For example, last week I had words with another customer at a furniture store. I’m very pregnant; I was sitting on a display ottoman and I was in this guy’s way. The guy gave me a lot of lip; I gave it right back. Next thing I know he’s threatening to beat up my husband. He wants Hank to meet him out on the sidewalk in front of the store. (Even this a-hole would not beat up a pregnant woman.) I was telling the story last night at dinner with our friends but Hank took over. He made it so dry and factual, like a towel-and-sheet inventory. He didn’t land the ending at all; it could have been so funny; I was really disappointed. What do you do about someone who is always finishing your stories for you?

Fat Lip

Dear Fat Lip,

Are the stakes really so high? It was just a story about a neurotic woman at a furniture store. If you can’t get perspective on that, then tell your stories when Hank’s not around. Tell them to the baby. Babies are good listeners, since they can’t talk. Also, you’re probably not as funny as you think you are. Maybe you take people hostage with your long tales, which is really just as rude as interrupting. Your husband is helping you out by cutting you off. Even your letter ran long.

Yours truly,
Miss Manners


film clip is from Naked by Mike Leigh, 1994 (Criterion Collection)