Ask Amy

Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 11:45pm

DEAR AMY: I have two teenage great-nieces who are in need of some guidance in the common rules of etiquette.

I have talked to friends who tell me that this is a common problem today.

I don't want these two girls, whom I care about, to go out in the world hurting the feelings of others as they have their grandparents and me.

I realize that their lapses are due to the fact that their parents have not taught them how to behave.

After much consideration, I have purchased, for each of them, a copy of a simply written book of etiquette for teens, which I intend to mail to them, as I rarely see them.

I would like your guidance as to the wording of a cover letter that I plan to enclose with the book. I don't want to hurt their feelings or those of their parents.

What do you suggest I say?

— Wondering Great-Aunt

DEAR WONDERING: You don't say what these teens have done — or not done — to hurt your feelings, but if these are lapses of omission, such as not thanking people properly for gifts, that's one thing. If they have actively hurt people, that's another story — and, awkward as it may be for you — these girls should be told.

If you are looking mainly to enhance their education about how to be respectful and polite, send your books along with a note saying, "When I was a teenager, we wore white gloves and hats to parties — and while fashion sure has changed, good manners never go out of style."

DEAR AMY: I would like to know if it would have been rude of me at a concert to politely ask the person behind me to stop singing so that I might have enjoyed the band I paid to hear.

I recently attended a doo-wop concert where I encountered three lovely ladies behind me, one of whom insisted on singing before, during and after the band.

Her voice was not at all enjoyable.

I shot her a couple of dirty looks (as did the lady in front of me), which she completely ignored.

There were several opportunities when the band invited everyone to sing along — and I have no problem with that.

How should I approach this sort of problem in the future?

— Deaf and Annoyed

DEAR ANNOYED: In my line of work, I hear about "dirty looks" being shot back and forth on an alarmingly frequent basis — and the dirty looks never seem to land on their target.

Contrary to popular belief, a dirty look isn't really a weapon of mass destruction. Sometimes, as our kindergarten teachers used to say, "You have to use your words."

Concerts are supercharged events, and doo-wop music is infectious.

You should have asked the singer in back of you to please stop singing by saying a version of, "I'm sure you don't realize this, but I'm having trouble hearing Sha Na Na because you're singing. Can you wait until the sing-along?"

DEAR AMY: Frequently you run letters from people who are trying to figure out how to get other people to stop doing something irritating.

There have been a couple of times when people have asked me to stop irritating them.

Once, I was doing research in the law library, concentrating furiously and apparently chewing gum just as furiously.

I was totally oblivious.

Someone came over and politely asked if I could chew more quietly because I was distracting her.

There was no accusation in her voice.

I appreciated her telling me that so I could accommodate.

Another time in a theater, the woman in front of me turned around and said, "I bet you don't realize it, but you have been kicking the back of my chair."

She was right — I didn't realize it.

I so much appreciated the non-accusatory tone, and I ceased and desisted immediately.

I have also resolved to use the same approach when I need to ask others to stop doing something irritating.

— Maureen

DEAR MAUREEN: There you go!

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