Miss Manners: Manners are important to those who value respect

February 2, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sister and I are having an argument. She says that saying “please” at the dinner table is begging. If someone wants something, they should just ask and it should be given.

Some of this stems from an abusive father who would taunt people at the table and insisted on “please” and “thank you” and then, after the taunting, would say no or just ignore you.

I can in some ways see her point, but I do not consider it begging. Her children are grown, with children of their own, and all of these kids are now the same way. Even if you do give them something, they never say thank you.

I say that manners are what separate us from animals. They are a form of respect. She says they’re just insincere and phony and should not be encouraged.

Am I just too old school? Is it really important? I think it is, and this will hurt the kids in the future.

GENTLE READER: It is only important if you don’t believe that those to whom your sister and her family keep issuing orders and ignoring presents will love and admire them for their sincerity.

No doubt your sister is right that she does not sincerely feel respect or gratitude, even to people who do her favors or give her presents. But as she should realize from her father’s cruel behavior, even such minor favors as passing the salt need not be granted. Why she would want to emulate him, Miss Manners cannot fathom.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Although I am of the conviction that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and woman, I am blessed with wonderful friendships with people who do not share such convictions, including two women who consider themselves (but are not legally) a married couple.

I would like to invite both to my wedding, but I am concerned about how to address their invitation(s). I am concerned that they would take offense if I were to send two separate invitations to the same address, one for each friend.

But I don’t wish to address them as I would a married couple, because I feel that would violate my own beliefs. Is there a polite way for me to hold to my convictions without causing offense?

GENTLE READER: The etiquette problem that troubles you does not exist. Any two grown-ups, whatever their relationship, who live at the same address but have different surnames may be sent one invitation, which is addressed by using two lines for their respective names.

What troubles Miss Manners is a deeper problem: that in celebrating your own union, you want to make it clear that you do not recognize your friends’.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Why do reporters and police officers, when speaking of a crime, refer to the perpetrator as a gentleman, as in, “The gentleman is suspected of having murdered his wife and dumped her body in the river”?

GENTLE READER: Probably not for the same reason that Miss Manners calls everyone a lady or a gentleman — to encourage them to behave as such. Possibly out of a Damon Runyonesque sense of humor. Perhaps because, as Miss Manners must remind you, a suspect is not necessarily a perpetrator.

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

2012, by Judith Martin

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