DEAR MISS MANNERS: You advised one reader that Americans should not curtsy to the Queen of England and advised another reader that “we show respect to the office, in the person of the officeholder (the president of the U. S., even if respect for the individual is lacking.”
You don’t see the contradiction between expecting the president to be treated respectfully but not the queen?
While listening to a band concert in St. James Park in London, I stood along with the rest of the audience when the band ended with “God Save the Queen,” just as the Italian exchange student sitting next to me at a symphony concert stood for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
I am not a Christian, but when I visit someone who says grace before meals, I respect their religion by bowing my head and remaining silent during their prayer. When a Catholic relative got married, I called to ask if I needed to wear a head covering. Shortly after 9/11, President Bush was photographed removing his shoes to visit a mosque. During one of the Middle Eastern wars, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, although left-handed, ate with his right hand out of respect for the Middle Eastern reluctance to use the left hand for food. (I think it best not to go into too much detail as to the reason for this reluctance.)
Why is showing respect to the Queen of England a different matter?
GENTLE READER: It is not. You have confused showing respect with showing obeisance.
Yet Miss Manners is pleased to see that your actions demonstrate the difference. You stand for other countries’ anthems, but do not sing them. You bow your head during the prayers of other religions, but do not recite them. You offered to obey the dress code of the Catholic Church, but you presumably did not try to take Communion.
All these are laudable ways of showing respect without pledging allegiance.
Admittedly, this can be confusing. Symbols are, by definition, arbitrary. In Japan, for example, bowing is a gesture of ordinary greeting — although foreigners who attempt it are often unaware that the degree and length of the bow depend on the status of the people involved. In Western culture, bowing and curtseying indicate submission to authority, which is probably why American children are no longer taught to do this in acknowledgment of their elders.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there a polite way to respond to casual acquaintances who always end conversations with “I love you”?
I’ve used “Thank you” and “You are so kind,” but was told by one that I was supposed to say “I love you” back. Am I a curmudgeon for not parroting an expression that seems misused to me?
GENTLE READER: There are many common expressions, such as “Good morning” and “Sincerely yours,” that should be used without being subjected to truth tests. But Miss Manners can think of some that should not be tossed off promiscuously. “I love you” is one, and “How much do you need?” is another.
The replies that you have been using are polite ways of discouraging these declarations. If you want to add a small sweetener, you could substitute a reasonable compliment, such as “And I think the world of you.”
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