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Miss Manners: Distracted conversations make phone calls mostly annoying

Dear Miss Manners: When I returned a phone call from a cousin, he asked why it had taken nearly two weeks for me to do so. I told him I wanted to be sure he’d receive my undivided attention when returning his call, and that was the reason for the delay.

Actually, it was not. He (and an increasing number of other people) only call me back when they are “stuck” with nothing better to do. I get calls from friends and family as they sit in traffic, wait in line, have a few minutes before they go in to see the dentist, etc. And worse yet, they tell me this!

To be informed that “Cousin Billy” only has a couple of minutes to talk because there are just two cars ahead of him at the drive-through does not make me feel special.

We are constantly interrupted during such chats by their children, traffic noises, other customers in line, and any number of things that distract them from the minimal amount of attention I’m already receiving.

These half conversations make it almost seem like calling me back is a chore to be done in conjunction with other errands to lessen the pain. It’s doubly annoying because when I initiate a call or receive one from them, off goes the TV and any other distractions; they receive my undivided attention.

I mentioned this to a co-worker who thought I was just being too sensitive, but I don’t see it that way. I’m sure no malice or insult is intended, but in my opinion, it’s absolutely thoughtless and rude.

What are your thoughts, Miss Manners? Oh, hang on a sec; the microwave’s timer is beeping.

Gentle Reader: Indeed. Miss Manners is in total agreement with your handling of the situation.

That you don’t want to reciprocate thoughtless behavior is hardly oversensitive or blameworthy. You should continue to call when it is convenient for you, and not to pick up when it isn’t. If you are further reprimanded by your callers, recommend that they text-message you any essential information instead.

Give them a weak smile

Dear Miss Manners: I’m a small-framed female in my mid-30s, working as a professor at a university. Both staff and students sometimes make comments suggesting that I look more like a student than a professor.

I dress professionally, but I still have a “young face.” My usual response is along the lines of “Thank you! But I just pulled out many gray hairs this morning.” Is there a more dignified response?

Gentle Reader: A weak smile alone would be sufficient. No jokes or excuses are necessary unless you yourself find it amusing.

This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s daughter, Jacobina Martin.