Miss Manners: Not every rite of passage is supposed to be fun

July 31, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS:

I think every family must have etiquette ground rules that pertain to invitations from relatives to rites of passage. When my parents were alive, the “ground rules” said that all invitations to rites of passage (weddings, bar or bat mitzvahs, anniversaries, etc.) had to be accepted, unless the event was taking place a long distance from the invitee.

However, once my parents accepted an invitation, they would complain that no one would talk to them, they wouldn’t have a good time and similar self-fulfilling comments. I have politely declined invitations to rites of passage where I did not expect to enjoy myself.

When accepting an invitation, doesn’t the guest have an obligation to at least appear to be having a good time? My parents would sit at their table with sour expressions -- and then expect the hosts or other guests to make the event pleasant for them. Wouldn’t it have been better to decline the invitation in the first place?

GENTLE READER: Not every duty is a pleasure, as your parents seem to have neglected to explain.

Miss Manners trusts that they also recognized an obligation to attend relatives’ funerals without regard to whether they are likely to be jolly. At significant family events, it is indeed gracious and responsible to attend if at all possible.

But duty does not end there. Every guest has the obligation to cooperate with the occasion, and Miss Manners agrees that showing up only to sulk is worse than not showing up.

Surely that is not the only choice. Rites of passage are not conducted for their amusement value, but with a bit of effort, you might be rewarded -- with new acquaintances, if you make the effort to socialize, and, at any rate, a closer understanding of your relatives.

DEAR MISS MANNERS:

Over the years I have noticed people knitting in public and have had no particular problem with it. However, I am a bit put off by those who knit in church or at an event such as a recital or concert.

Is it acceptable to knit at a church, synagogue or other religious service? And what about a concert or recital? I recently attended a piano and violin recital in a small venue where someone was knitting in the third row. Surely it was evident to the performers. And if such knitting is not appropriate, how should the knitters be approached, or prevented?

GENTLE READER: Please do not -- repeat, not -- make a hostile approach to knitters. Have you not noticed that they are armed with long, pointy sticks?

Of all the multitaskers who could annoy you, Miss Manners would not have guessed that knitters would top the list. There is a centuries-long history of ladies quietly doing needlework while remaining alert to what was going on around them.

But perhaps your complaint is that they are not quiet. If the clicking of needles is what bothers you, you could appeal to the authorities at church or concert hall that as they ban texting, it is only fair to ban activities that create similar noise. And if they don’t already ban texting, you might start by asking that they do before going after those comparatively unobtrusive knitters.

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

2011, by Judith Martin

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