DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am aware that you strongly advise people not to respond to rude behavior or bad manners in a similar way. How, though, can you express in a polite manner that the guilty party’s behavior is not acceptable?
Permit me to explain my situation. I am an unemployed librarian. I have applied for many jobs, and the applications are submitted online. Last week I received a rejection email from a college. I had applied for the job six months ago!
I wanted to reply, “I think I gathered that,” but I didn’t. Some institutions wait months before they announce their hiring decisions, and some libraries treat the issue rather casually. People’s lives are in limbo as they wait for decisions.
Is there a polite, but strong, rebuke, to people who wait months on end to let someone know that he did not get the job?
GENTLE READER: The polite ways to register offense are generally nonverbal, because they are meant to be subtle: a haughty look, a cold tone, a raised eyebrow.
Emails, which are devoid of context — and which are often written and read quickly — can barely convey simple messages without a risk of being misunderstood.
The polite way to convey your meaning is to be direct: “I am naturally disappointed that you did not choose me for the position, but I am sure there were many qualified candidates. It would have been gracious if you could have conveyed the news in a more timely fashion.”
However, Miss Manners seriously questions the wisdom of doing so. Your criticism is likely to be dismissed as coming from a sore loser, and it is no good annoying someone who might be thinking of you as the runner-up if the first candidate fails. (c) MISS MANNERS
Yeah, I’ve been there. I’m sure we can all relate. It’s not hard, I’m sure, for HR people to put a rejection in the mail (or to send an email), and this avoids the awkwardness of having to tell someone in person or on the phone that they didn’t get the job.
There was one local agency where I interviewed once and was hopeful. But two weeks passed with no news. I finally grabbed the phone and called them. (This was a few decades ago, and I don’t think I had the person’s email address.) The HR lady didn’t answer the phone. Ring, ring, ring. No answering machine, either.
On a hunch, I dialed *67 before dialing the HR lady’s number. *67 blocks the caller ID display from showing up on the other party’s caller ID log, meaning that the HR lady wouldn’t know who was calling. Could be a new job candidate!
And she answered the phone. “Hello?”
I identified myself and asked about the job.
“Oh, right, sorry. No, you didn’t get it.”
Awkward! All she had to do was put something in the mail or send an email. But I have to say that avoiding my calls was beyond unprofessional and cowardly. Good grief.
There was another time, also a long time ago, when I waited several weeks to hear back and heard nothing. Finally, I called the man who’d interviewed me. He got mad and said, “You’re calling me about business on New Year’s Day?!” (Yes, I was.)
And I’d love to go back in time and say, “Buddy, it’s your own fault for never getting back to me sooner. Now go get drunk for New Year’s, you loser.”
However, this was back before I came into my own voice, so instead of saying that, I blushed and apologized nervously before ending the call. Damn it all!
And then there’s the whole issue of being rejected by literary agents. Often they’ll send a nice form email with your name and book’s title filled into it. Sometimes they’ll just write you a quick note, like, “Thanks for thinking of me, but this project isn’t a good fit. Good luck!” I appreciate such notes.
But the quick-note concept can be taken too far. One time I got a rejection that simply said, “Pass.”
I hit the reply button and typed, “Rude.” And I freakin’ sent it.
Get down with your bad self, Meg.
This other time I got a really harsh rejection that was just mean. It was a form rejection. (There’s a website I use where authors share notes about the rejections they receive, so I can confirm that it’s a form rejection.) But even though it was a form rejection, it read really horribly. Something like, “Your book has been rejected. We won’t keep it in our database. We won’t steal your ideas. You’ll never hear from us again.”
And I was like, holy shit, okay. I wrote back to them and told them they needed to change their form letter. I suspect a previous querent had threatened to sue them for stealing his/her idea, but there’s no reason to terrorize everyone else who submits afterward.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Because of similar apartment numbers, an elderly gentleman in my building sometimes receives my mail by mistake. On three separate occasions, he has returned it — after opening and reading it.
Despite a lack of apology from him, I understand accidents happen and hold no ill will for the mishaps. However, on the two occasions he opened my bank statements, he returned them and made rather personal and disparaging comments about my bank balance and how I must like to “shop a lot.”
I was dumbstruck on these occasions, and couldn’t manage much of a response. I am nervous that, if this happens again, I might not be able to be polite.
Is there an appropriate response that Miss Manners can suggest that would make it clear that I have no interest in what he thinks about my finances, without descending into rudeness?
GENTLE READER: This would best be done when a letter of his has been delivered to you. Knock at his door, and hold the letter just out his reach, as if waiting for a child to say “please.” Say, in a half-joking tone, “I got one of your letters by mistake. Let’s make a deal: I won’t read your mail if you won’t read mine.”
Miss Manners supposes it is too much to hope that his letter is in a feminine hand and looks as if it might be a love letter.
Wow. Um. That’s a federal offense, and this neighbor should be reported to the USPS, as should the incompetent mailman.
But broadly speaking, this letter writer is being wayyyy too nice. There are times to be hostile and cutting, and this is one of those times. “I’m sorry you disapprove of my spending, seeing as it’s absolutely none of your business. What right did you have to open my mail? Next time, I’m reporting you. Got it?” And there needs to be followup with the USPS so that the mailman will quit creating this horrid situation. Geez.
And the reason she needs to be hostile is that some people won’t get the message from basic assertion. If you’re in a situation where you’re blushing and defending yourself (or your spending, as in this case), then the other person will feel free to keep walking all over you. Get aggressive (verbally), I daresay.
I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to put my foot down. I hate my birthname, M-word. So I had a job once where my employers thoughtlessly introduced me as M-word to all my coworkers because it was still my legal name at the time. (I changed my name to Meg legally in 2008 and have gone by Meg since 2002.) One coworker couldn’t get it through his head to quit calling me M-word, so after I was nice the first two or three times, when it happened again, I got in his face and said, “My name’s Meg, and that is what you will call me. Do we understand each other?”
We understood each other.
I didn’t want to be so nasty, but I can’t handle being name-triggered. Not surprisingly, that job, like every other job I’ve ever had, drove me farther insane and led to more mental collapse. That’s why I get the big disability bucks these days. That guy calling me M-word was just the tip of the iceberg.
Referring back to today’s letter, something similar happened to me once, regarding being judgey about spending. I went to the bank and was asking the bank employee if my debit card was compromised because I’d shopped at Home Depot. (At the time, Home Depot’s security was hacked, leading to a data breach involving people’s credit card numbers.)
She must’ve misunderstood my question. (That’s how I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt, at any rate.) She said, “It’s not just that you shop at Home Depot. Gracious, you need to quit shopping everywhere. The bookstore? Target? Amazon? The pastry shop? Whoa. Just slow down your spending.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I see,” I replied. “Thank you for that insight.” And I did the stuff Miss Manners referenced in her first aforementioned letter: I gave her a haughty look, used a cold tone, and raised eyebrow. Then I left the bank to go buy more bagels.
This has been fun. I hope everyone out there is having a really great day!! Thanks for stopping by.