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Miss Manners: If you’re not in line, you’re not in line

April 8, 2019

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When visiting a bank to be seen by a teller, at what point are you officially in line?

I entered a bank to cash a check, and as I did not need any paperwork, I passed the kiosk where two women were filling out forms, and promptly stood in the line. A few moments later, the women joined me. One began to loudly complain to the other that I had “cut” in front of them.

I listened and then told her that I hadn’t and that she was not ready. You can’t actively wait in line if you are still getting everything in order.

We had a few more words and before it became heated, I left my spot and walked to the very back of the line, which now had five more people who had entered. The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth. Was I a line-cutter?

GENTLE READER: Sometimes a line is a social convention: When multiple lines jump over an aisle and then feed into a single point, both the continuity of the line and the need for alternation are implied. But usually, a line is just a line.

Miss Manners has not, herself, perfected the technique of standing in line, balancing a form on her left hand while writing with her right and shuffling forward with her feet. But she has seen it done.

The people filling out forms elsewhere were not in line, and therefore you did not cut in front of them. But you were prudent to cut out.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’ve never experienced a situation where income would dictate the proper manners, but this may be the case.

The CEO’s wife of the company I work for gave me a Mason jar filled with homemade granola, and a cleaning person where I work gave me a Mason jar filled with homemade trail mix. I wrote them thank-you cards and I struggled to tamp down my thanks, as both were really good and I didn’t want to seem like I was “fishing” for more.

Anyway, the CEO and his wife are worth around $100 million and the cleaning person makes slightly above minimum wage. What do I do with the Mason jars?

I know the cleaning person could re-use both of them and the CEO’s wife would probably look at me like I was crazy if I returned a cleaned but empty jar.

GENTLE READER: Espousing, as Miss Manners does, the belief that proper behavior is for the rich, the poor and everyone in between, is different (and truer) than saying that etiquette does not recognize means.

It does recognize them, although sometimes by intentionally ignoring them. Writing a thank-you note to the CEO’s wife was an act of good manners. Writing the same thank-you note to the cleaning person accomplished two such acts: First, you thanked her for the gift; second, you did not confuse her economic status with her dignity as a person. None of this precludes you from performing an additional act — of charity — such as speaking to someone at work about seeing if the cleaning lady could get a raise.

You could also have returned both jars. Financial prudence also exists across people of different means.