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Devaluing standing ovation

Dear Miss Manners: During the opening ceremonies at my husband's graduation from a local community college, several awards and accolades were given, as well as honorary degrees bestowed.

My concern comes from the request of the presiding professor who asked us to stand and give an ovation to those receiving the honorary degrees. I have always believed standing ovations were a spontaneous reaction from the audience, not a prompted response.

I felt the request devalued the ovation, as it did not come from the heartfelt warmth and regard of the audience. Though these gentlemen were undoubtedly deserving, I would not have felt compelled to stand without the prompting of the emcee.

Are standing ovations now relegated to the same status as polite applause?

Gentle Reader: Pretty much. In the art world, it is called ovation inflation, the professional equivalent of events where all the children get trophies so nobody is rewarded for accomplishing more than anyone else.

However, Miss Manners suspects that something more than generalized cheerleading is going on here.

At a typical graduation, people applaud chiefly for the individuals they went to see being graduated. There is generally a request to hold all applause until all the diplomas have been given out, and this is generally ignored. The result is that those with the largest families out-shout everyone else, and some graduates are all but ignored.

Those who receive honorary degrees are presumably older and already established professionally, so they do not invite cheering cliques. Nor does the audience tend to get excited about anyone but their own friends and relatives.

So unless they are major celebrities, honorary degree recipients tend to be ignored. Miss Manners presumes that what you experienced was merely a clumsy attempt to compensate for that.

> Handling fans in line

Dear Miss Manners: I am a professional musician who is often called upon to sign CDs after a performance. I am happy to do this and am fortunate that, oftentimes, there are many people patiently waiting in line for their turn to have their CDs signed.

It never fails that at least one individual (or couple, and sometimes more), usually louder and more aggressive, will "break in line," very quickly, to say something to me while I'm talking to or signing the CD of the person who's been waiting in line.

It seems impossible to ignore these interlopers, but I always feel guilty giving them this attention, because it extends even more the wait period for those still in line.

Interrupters or not, these are all paying customers whom I hope to keep engaged with my music/performances. What is the best way to handle this?

Gentle Reader: Gently. You don't want these people to stop adoring you. Or the others to get out of line.

So you should turn to look the intruder full in the face and, with a regretful but pleasant expression, say, "Let me just finish with the line here and I'll be glad to talk to you."

> Gent skipped on his share

Dear Miss Manners: Yesterday, four of us ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out) had lunch out. While not wealthy, we are all comfortable.

When the check was brought to our table, the total was $60 and change, not including tip.

We agreed a tip of $3 each was reasonable, and three of us, not having smaller bills, just upped it to $5 and laid our $20 bills on the table.

The fourth fellow, seeing the bill was covered, then laid down $9 instead of his share of $18. Thus, he effectively took $6 of the tip the other three had chosen to give the waitress. Instead of the $18 or $20 she would have gotten, or the $15 we three had already placed on the table, she got $9 -- less than the $15 the three of us gave. He effectively got an $18 lunch for $9.

I was shocked but didn't know how to approach him and said nothing. What could I have done?

Gentle Reader: Did you think of saying, "No, you owe $18"? And, if he balked, slapping down the extra money yourselves and then not telling him when the next gathering will be?

Miss Manners would have thought you gentlemen old enough not to be shy about handling the business angle in a businesslike way. The lunch itself was indeed social, but the explicit rules of a regular group may be upheld frankly without embarrassment.