Skip to main content

The 1980s:

May 2024
1min read

“I Hate Talking to a Machine”


Dear Miss Manners:

What do you consider a good conversation opener?

Gentle Reader:

Almost anything except “I’ve been on a wonderful journey of self-discovery lately, and I’d like to share it with you.”


Dear Miss Manners:

My niece is getting married next month in a long white dress after living with the man three years and having two children. Do you think this is proper?

Gentle Reader:

This event comes under a particular category of “Proper” known as “High time.” In this area, there is no time for quibbling over dresses or other accessories. Go and wish the couple joy. You cannot accuse them of rushing into matrimony without due consideration.


Dear Miss Manners:

What do you say to a hostess the next day when you don’t really remember how you behaved at her party?

Maybe you were perfectly all right, in which case you don’t need to apologize, and in fact, doing so would only call attention to something you got away with concealing, if you know what I mean. But maybe you weren’t OK, in which case you ought to say something. How about just “I had a wonderful time”? Is that neutral enough?

Gentle Reader:

Well, no. She may be already aware, perhaps more aware than you, of how wonderful a time you had. The apology, if indeed you owe one, is likely to be needed in connection with the effect your wonderful time had on the rest of the party. How about saying to her, “You were magnificent”? That covers anything from her simply being a good hostess to her having tolerated your bad behavior.


Dear Miss Manners:

What should one do upon reaching one of these electronic marvels? I hang up as I hate talking to a machine. I know this is not proper, but what is?

Gentle Reader:

It is perfectly proper to hang up on a machine. In fact, the whole concept of proper and improper behavior does not apply between people and machines. Miss Manners has enough trouble getting people to be polite to one another, without worrying whether they are treating machines with consideration.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.