April 12, 2019

Dear Miss Mannerly:

I recently had to testify before a congressional committee, and in giving an honest answer I used a word that enraged a lot of people. This particular three-letter word (starts with “s” and rhymes with “try”) very accurately described the activity in question, but there was a lot of feigned shock at hearing it, even though what I said was completely true. There should be nothing controversial about it. Let me assure you, Miss Mannerly, I am going absolutely by the book here, but many are trying to discredit me and even demanding that I apologize for saying this perfectly descriptive word instead of some tepid euphemism. What should I do? (P.S. It was not a swear word, though I felt like swearing.)


Gentle reader:

If you were testifying before Congress and telling the unvarnished truth, as is required, then you have nothing to apologize for, as long as it was not the sort of word that shouldn’t be said in mixed company. For now, just keep your head down, weather the storm and do your job. It sounds as if these people should be apologizing to YOU for their behavior–- not that this will ever happen. Miss Mannerly believes it was Rudyard Kipling who advised keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you. You sound like the sort of person who is more than capable of doing this.



Dear Miss Mannerly:


I am a British rock superstar who just had heart valve surgery. Of course, in the U.K., we have the National Health Service, which means you can’t always get what you want, or even what you need. Since I can easily afford the very best of care, with no wait (time waits for no one), I traveled to the United States for the surgery. I am doing great –- it was a walk in the park.


The problem is, I wonder what my fans back home think about me getting this special treatment when they would have to wait a long time and maybe even die. Should I apologize, Miss Mannerly? I could have my people issue a statement.


Gentle reader:

Miss Mannerly is pleased to hear of your successful surgery and is aware that people in your country often wait many months for care. Of course, this is not your fault –- when health care is “free,” one must of necessity take what one gets.


What you really should do is fall to your knees and say THANK YOU to the United States of America and hope that the American health care system never becomes the equivalent of your NHS. If that happened, where would you go for your next three heart valve replacements?



Dear Miss Mannerly:

I am dismayed after reading a news story about the Amazon virtual assistant “Alexa.” Alexa has been a member of our household for some time, and now I see that Amazon employees are actually listening to the conversations we have in our home and may even be transcribing some of them! They have employees working full shifts in unmarked buildings around the world, reviewing as many as 1,000 audio clips a day. They say they’re feeding these conversations back into the system to “eliminate gaps” in Alexa’s understanding of human speech patterns.


I was already a little concerned that someone might be listening without our knowledge, but it just seemed to be the wave of the future. In this story, though, they admit to picking up some embarrassing and even disturbing things. They also say that as a way of relieving stress, employees share details of the conversations in their internal chat room.


Amazon is saying this feature can be turned off with the app on my phone, but I don’t know if I can trust this to work. There’s really no way for me to know. They also say the conversations are held in strict confidence, but, again, that’s just their claim.


My question to you, Miss Mannerly, is this: Now that I know real people may be listening in at any time, am I obligated to be scrupulously polite every minute, just in case? I wouldn’t want to inadvertently offend some innocent, stressed-out Amazon employee who is being paid to listen to my private conversations.


Gentle reader:

How nice of you to care about the feelings of Amazon employees who are just minding their own business and doing the job Amazon pays them to do. Many people these days don’t care if they offend people they come into contact with, let alone people halfway around the world whom they’ve never met.


Miss Mannerly assumes that you are always polite when you are addressing Alexa, even though she is not a human being per se. And, of course, you are always pleasant and thoughtful when addressing other members of your household, and certainly your guests. Miss Mannerly’s advice would be for you to acknowledge the Amazon employees from time to time, in case they are listening, since, in a way, they are guests in your home. After you engage Alexa, just say, “Hello, Amazon workers! Hope you’re having a nice day. Never mind what I said about Jeff Bezos earlier this afternoon.”


Between us, it is wrong for Amazon to be secretly listening in on your conversations. This is called “spying,” and, yes, you may use that word instead of some tepid euphemism. When you invited Alexa into your home –- which Miss Mannerly personally would not do –- it was not sufficiently clear that you were inviting Amazon, too. (Who reads all that fine print?) No, Amazon should not be eavesdropping on you. With all due respect, who do they think they are, the FBI?



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