On a recent trip to Europe I learned firsthand the meaning of the term "ugly American," which stems partly from the loud, obnoxious voices we sometimes use in public.
When Europeans are out in public they converse in low, modulated tones. They carry cell phones as we do, but rarely did I see Europeans use them, and never loudly. On trains, they walk out of the train car and answer their phones between the cars, so they won't disturb other passengers. And only once did I see someone answer a cell phone in a restaurant.
For some reason, Americans seem to need to be constantly on their cell phones. It's almost as if they have a compulsion to prove to those around them that they are important or have friends. Well, they would gain far more friends if they turned off their phones and smiled or spoke quietly to the human seated next to them.
- Traveler in San Diego
DEAR TRAVELER: Here we go again on the subject of cell phone manners.
People who plan to travel outside the country need to keep in mind that once we cross the border we become unofficial representatives of the U.S.A., and first impressions can have a lasting impact. That's why it's wise to ask a travel agent, or read up on your destination before leaving, to learn what the local customs are in the place you are visiting - and this applies not only to the use of cell phones, but also to how you dress and whether or not it's appropriate to take photos.
DEAR ABBY: I am a student intern in a small laboratory. I like my job and get along with everyone who works here. However, there's one woman I can almost never understand. She has an accent, does not articulate her words well and speaks in a low tone of voice.
When I say, "What?" or "Excuse me?" she will repeat what she said, but I still cannot hear her. I have resorted to just laughing when she laughs and trying to avoid her. Luckily, I don't have to work directly with her very often, but I feel bad because I'm not as friendly to her as I am to everyone else. How should I handle this?
- Huh? in Orlando
DEAR HUH? Tell her the truth, that you need her to speak more clearly because you have difficulty understanding her. But do it privately so you won't embarrass her.
DEAR ABBY: I have been dating an amazing girl, "Nina," for two months, and have fallen madly in love with her. Although contemplating marriage at this point might seem presumptuous, I'm convinced that this is where we're headed.
My concern is Nina's mother, "Joan." Although Joan is fully capable of working, she has chosen to "guilt" Nina into supporting her. She makes little or no financial contribution and works as little as possible. Nina is convinced that her mother is helpless, although Joan has never been diagnosed with a physical or psychological chronic illness.
I'm afraid that if I marry Nina, she will insist that we take care of her mother for the rest of her life. This would take a heavy toll on both the marriage and our finances. How can I make Nina recognize that my concern is valid without having her think I'm heartless?
- Three's a Crowd in New York
DEAR THREE'S A CROWD: A step in the right direction would be to have a long engagement, and insist that before you tie the knot you have premarital counseling to ensure that the two of you are in agreement about what the marriage will involve. *