Miss Manners: Behave yourself when in cocktail dress

February 7, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Describe business formal. Describe cocktail.

GENTLE READER: Business formal is behave yourself. Cocktails do not help.

Sorry, but that’s the best Miss Manners can do with the proliferation of vague dress codes.

Regional, professional and eccentric differences aside, gentlemen should wear suits to both, ladies should wear dresses, suits or something equivalent (which is to say, clearly not leisure clothes), and, if possible, add a bit of extra dash for cocktail parties.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend in her 50s who is just plain rude. She assumes that she is perfectly entitled to tell parents of misbehaving children (total strangers) how their children are out of line; to loudly and longly honk her horn when someone drives in a manner she dislikes; to bang on her apartment ceiling, walls and floor with a rubber mallet when her neighbors are too loud, etc.

She’s nice in private, but in public, she’s embarrassing due to her rudeness, which can come out at any time — most recently when she thought someone had cut in line in front of her and she loudly said, “That’s okay. I’m invisible here.”

I’ve tried to gently tell her that two wrongs don’t make a right, but she just brushes me off with, “Yes, Mom.” Should I move on, or is there a nice way to let her know the way she treats people is embarrassing and rude?

GENTLE READER: No doubt your friend believes that she is serving the cause of manners by further inflaming people who are already behaving questionably and, incidentally, by ridiculing your embarrassment. That rudeness does not teach the importance of etiquette does not seem to discourage anyone from trying.

Miss Manners cannot authorize your committing the rudeness of criticizing your friend’s behavior. But she can suggest that you discuss the matter calmly, when your friend is on her “nice” behavior, by engaging her on the subject of the reactions she encounters.

Is the neighbor more cooperative after those bangings? Do parents thank her for pointing out that their children are misbehaving, and are they presumably open to teaching them better behavior? Do those who cut into line apologize when she denounces them?

Miss Manners is guessing that this will lead to the admission that maybe her outbursts don’t change others, but they make her feel better. You will then have to be gentle when you ask what she believes are the motives of others for their rudeness.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’ve been invited to a dinner party. Recently widowed, I am not certain that I will be in a comfortable position and am considering declining the invitation.

Would it be proper for another invited guest to tell the host of my dilemma? Isn’t it my responsibility to speak with the host?

GENTLE READER: If you are in the first throes of widowhood, you may ask a friend or relative to explain this to your host. After that, yes, it is up to you.

But Miss Manners hopes that — firsthand or secondhand — you will do this in a way that does not suggest perpetual seclusion, making clear that you appreciate the invitation but are in mourning and will be in touch. It is sadly common for widows to find themselves in social isolation after the initial wave of sympathy.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS

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