Miss Manners: Why did she think my innocent question was an attack?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was shopping at a local grocery store, looking for Italian breadcrumbs. Searching the aisles, I couldn’t find them. I came upon a lady also obviously looking for something, and I innocently asked her if she’d seen the breadcrumbs.

Her response floored me. She said, “Why -- because I’m a woman?”

My response was, “No, because I’m making meatloaf.”

I took a boys’ cooking class in ninth grade, and I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen during my 29-year career as a professional firefighter.

GENTLE READER: It doesn’t take much to insult people nowadays, does it?

This one doesn’t even make sense. Did your restrained reply show the lady how ridiculous she was being?

An unfortunate side effect of the current emphasis on “identity” is that people commonly assume that theirs is under attack, even in obviously benign situations such as this one. But while you were not insulting her gender, Miss Manners will take the opportunity to insult her manners.

• • •

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband thinks that if I ask for something without saying “please,” it is inherently rude. In addition, he will point it out and refuse to help in any way until I say “please,” even if I am in the middle of taking care of one or both of our toddlers. He even does this in front of our extended families.

Both of us frequently ask our 3-year-old daughter to say “please” to teach her good manners, and we will refuse to give her a treat, etc. until she does. However, I find my husband’s habit very rude, especially when done in front of company. It feels like I’m being treated like a 3-year-old.

I do try to politely request help, but my husband thinks there’s no such thing as politely asking for something without specifically saying “please.”

What are your thoughts?

GENTLE READER: By your own account, you are behaving worse than you expect a 3-year-old to behave.

Miss Manners would like to make your and your husband’s child-rearing efforts simpler by reminding you that children pay attention to what their parents do, often at the expense of what the parents tell them to do.

Therefore, you should always accompany a request with “please,” not just to avoid undercutting your daughter and annoying your husband, but because it is the right thing to do.

And he should stop criticizing you in public, which, despite provocation, is the wrong thing to do.

• • •

DEAR MISS MANNERS: At what time does saying “Good afternoon” change to “Good evening”?

GENTLE READER: At 6 p.m., sundown or whenever you arise from your afternoon nap.

Miss Manners | Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Miss Manners, written by Judith Martin and her two perfect children, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Marin, has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Send your questions to