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Miss Manners: Reading is rude in the company of others

Dear Miss Manners: My 62-year-old sister has the habit of pulling a book from her purse in any social outing involving friends, relatives, etc., and reading.

She has done so in the lobby of a theater while our group (which she organized) awaits a dramatic performance. She did so as my husband and I, along with several other family members, were en route to my mother-in-law’s funeral via limousine.

I consider her behavior the height of rudeness, ignoring everyone in her presence in favor of a book. May I have your opinion on her conduct?

Gentle Reader: Why doesn’t she use a telephone to be rude, like everyone else?

Does she believe that books are presumably more elevating, and thus exempt from the rule against ignoring actual people to attend to something you obviously find more interesting? Miss Manners can assure her that no such exception is made.

Taking a stand

Dear Miss Manners: Growing up, I was blessed to have the good fortune of attending many live performances of different kinds of theater and music. My parents taught me about appropriate behavior for these events, like waiting until the end of a piece to applaud, or bringing cough drops with wrappers that don’t crinkle.

They also taught me that standing ovations are reserved for truly exceptional performances (which I have happily participated in on several occasions). For most concerts, I remain in my seat, giving hearty applause in gratitude for the performers’ efforts.

What should I do, then, in instances that I don’t think warrant standing ovations? I recently went to a business training in which the keynote speaker was given a standing ovation. She was a gifted speaker, but not extraordinary. Everyone in the room leaped to their feet in applause. I noticed I was one of the few people in the room still sitting. I felt like remaining seated was calling attention to myself and was attracting glares from others. Thus, I stood too.

I realize that “exceptional” is in the eye of the beholder. I have seen/heard better performances than most people, so perhaps I simply have higher standards. So should I stand with the crowd, regardless of how I feel about a performance, or should I reserve my acclaim for what I find truly noteworthy? And where do children’s recitals fall into this?

Gentle Reader: To answer your last question first: They don’t. Contrary to human experience, children’s recitals and other amateur performances are considered social events because no one attends unless a personal relationship exists with someone involved. Unbridled enthusiasm is therefore expected.

Professional entertainment is in an entirely different category. Unless you are there as a guest, you are a paying customer, entitled to an opinion.

Miss Manners would consider that applauding lightly while remaining seated would express the positive, but not thrilled, reaction that you described.