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It's not OK to chastise strangers

Dear Miss Manners: Is there ever a scenario in which it is appropriate to point out the bad manners of a stranger? What if the offense was so atrocious as to cause nervous twitching to those in the vicinity?

I was recently riding on a sold-out train, a three-hour journey between two major cities. My partner and I were seated across the aisle from a young woman who smacked her gum, mouth open, for the entire trip. The noise could practically be heard throughout the entire car. Moving was not an option as the train was sold out.

On top of this, the man seated behind was ill and frequently coughed without covering his mouth. Is there anything to be said or done, short of a nasty glare (which I'm sure is equally inappropriate)? Could people possibly be expected to endure such abuse in silence?

Gentle Reader: "Atrocious"? Miss Manners doesn't enjoy hearing gum-smacking or unprotected coughs, but you had her expecting to hear about gross violations of human rights.

Perhaps you think that is what these petty annoyances are. But public space is filled with petty annoyances, and you can't go around scolding the public. Then you, too, would be a public nuisance.

Oh, Miss Manners supposes you could go around offering tissues with a sympathetic expression, hoping that the cougher would figure out using it to cover his mouth, and telling the gum-chewer the tissue was for when she wanted to dispose of her gum. But you would be better off, not to mention safer, in administering earplugs and facemasks to yourself.

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>No repayment necessary here

Dear Miss Manners: I am wondering if it is rude to ask a bride to repay me for all of the purchases I made for her wedding since it did not last a year.

I know that she should return gifts she received from the wedding, so I am wondering if the same rule applies to the wedding party. I never wanted to be in the wedding, but since it was family I had to say yes.

Gentle Reader: You really hated being in this wedding, didn't you? The principals didn't care for it, either, Miss Manners gathers.

Nevertheless, the marriage did take place, and you are mistaken about the necessity for refunds. Wedding presents need to be returned to the donors only if the wedding is canceled, and there is no question of reimbursing bridesmaids or guests for the expenses they incurred. Next time, you might want to take out your own insurance.

e-mail: missmanners@unitedmedia.com.

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