Miss Manners: Customer service often misgenders me on the phone
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Miss Manners: Customer service often misgenders me on the phone

Jun 24, 2024

Dear Miss Manners: I am a woman with a deep voice and forthright manner. When I am on the phone with a call center, I am often called “sir.” I hate this. I think they should not assume. My first name on my account is Rosalind, which I have never heard to be a male name.

How can I respond? I usually say, “Don’t assume!” and they apologize. But it never feels right.

Certainly, it would be better if they had gotten it right the first time. But they addressed you with “sir,” not “Hey, Roz!,” and then apologized for their mistake. This suggests there was no intent to offend.

Given this, Miss Manners thinks it would be better — and might also feel better — if you were to respond in a less confrontational manner: “Actually, I prefer ‘madam.’”

Dear Miss Manners: What is the correct way to deal with paper napkins?

A cloth napkin is easy: You spread it on your lap. But paper napkins are often too small and flimsy to be used that way. Plus, they are normally used when the dining is very causal. Nevertheless, should that paper napkin still go on the lap?

Yes, unless that puts it in danger of being blown away by the next gust of wind, in which case Miss Manners suggests partially sitting on it. She would also agree to any other method of securing it, so long as it is out of sight and you promise not to tell her about it.

Dear Miss Manners: The following has happened to me twice recently, and I consider it rude.

On both occasions, I took an empty seat on the subway (I am elderly and short and don’t want to stand if I don’t have to), only to discover that the two people I sat between were together and wanted to talk.

On both occasions, I politely said to one of the people, “Would you like to switch seats with me so that you can continue your conversation?” — the subtext being, “I don't want to be physically in the middle of your conversation.”

And on both occasions, the person I spoke to said, “That’s okay, I don’t mind,” which I found a very odd response. They then continued talking to their friend “over” me, oblivious to how inconsiderate it was. On the most recent occasion, I went on to say, “Actually, it’s bad manners to have a conversation over someone who is not with you.”

“Manners?” he said, as if he had never heard the word. Then he said, heaving a big sigh, “That’s okay. I’ll stop talking!” Don’t you find that odd? Why couldn’t he have just changed seats?

Or perhaps his surprise was that a stranger would publicly (and rudely) correct his manners.

Although the phrasing of your initial offer to swap places — as a favor to him — was not exactly rude, Miss Manners knows what was in your heart. She would have preferred a less antagonistic, and likely more effective, approach such as, “Could we please switch seats?”

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.

© 2023 Judith Martin

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