This is very common while traveling, but I never know quite what to say: The person sitting next to you is invading your space, a little or a lot, with his (it's usually a he) arms or legs. This is not about someone who is overweight and does not fit in his seat, it is about lack of consideration while making oneself comfortable. So what does one say to someone like that?
- Ben in Pa.
Answer: This is such a common problem that commercial airlines have had to divert planes when passenger tempers go wild over leg room. If it's an option, the easiest way to handle these situations (and avoid unpleasantness and law enforcement getting involved) is to simply move to another seat. If there are no options, you might politely say, "Is there a way I could get a little more room here?" These are extremely awkward circumstances any way you look at them. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the concept that we all need a little space, particularly on public transportation.
Q: I have a friend who prides herself on her proper good manners. The problem is that she is a terrible listener. If the conversation doesn't interest her she will even walk away. Is there a way to address this?
- Laura in Pa.
A: Every year I put "Be a better listener" on my New Year's resolution list. The reason for movements like "mindfulness" is that in our high-wired world many of us don't slow down enough to listen and it is both wrong and rude. I used to have a friend who would keep drumming away on her computer keyboard while we talked on the phone. I finally started saying, "Would you like me to call you back at a better time?" That seemed to work. Your friend is probably pretty set in her not-paying-attention ways, but you could always try the tactic of saying, "You seem distracted, maybe we should talk another time." That gives her an out, but also exposes her lack of attention. The other option is to find friends who are less self-absorbed and want to hear what others have to say.
Q: Is it polite to ask someone if they received a gift you sent by mail?
- Chris in N.J.
A: This question has surfaced before, but at holiday gift-giving time of year, it's always good to revisit it. Due to the appalling lack of thank you notes these days, I say go ahead and ask. When you have taken the time to purchase a gift and send it (not to mention the money you have put out), I think as the sender you have a right to know that it has been received. If your question serves as a reminder of the graciousness of thanking the giver, that's an added benefit.