Ring This Up: Not One Item More

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Dear Miss Manners:

Am I wrong for being irritated with the people who have a full cart of groceries in the "10 items or less" aisle when I am behind them with cheese and eggs?

I just do not understand how people do not take some rules seriously. I will admit, I have brought 11 things to the express lane, but I have never gotten in line with more than 10 while people with fewer items were behind me. I just think that small instances like that, where people are being inconsiderate of those around them, make this world a little bit more frustrating for those who abide by such rules.

Miss Manners had a lot more sympathy for you before you ran up to the express lane with your 11 items, deciding it would be all right because you failed to notice the three people headed for that register with the proper number of purchases.

That's the tricky thing about rules. While we can all think of emergency situations in which they should be broken, it is quite another thing to ignore them on the assumption that the rationale for them no longer applies. It is the difference between running into the street past a red light to save a fallen child from being run over and driving through a red light because you don't see cars coming from the other direction.

The shoppers to whom you object will probably argue that they were in a particular hurry, that they weren't much over the limit and so on. But these cases -- and yours -- are not ones in which you are expected to exercise your own judgment in, as it always turns out, your own interest. That is what is meant by taking rules seriously.

Dear Miss Manners:

Recently, reading of events and customs common during the 1920s and '30s, I came across a couple of terms that puzzled me.

The first mentions dinner clothes and evening clothes in the same sentence. I thought all attire worn after 6 p.m. was considered evening clothes. What, if any, is the difference?

Second, I read about a piece of ladies' jewelry called a love altar. I assume this is some sort of necklace, but I would like to know more about its probable design, look, etc. As the name would suggest, this was a gift from a gentleman admirer.

Indeed, there is a difference between dinner clothes and evening clothes. Among those who "dressed," as we used to say, evening dress meant white tie and tails for the gentlemen and revealing dresses for the ladies, while dinner clothes were black-tie (still referred to as the dinner jacket) for gentlemen and long, narrow dresses with sleeves (still referred to as dinner dresses) for the ladies.

As respectable ladies did not accept jewelry from their gentlemen admirers, Miss Manners knows nothing of what you call a love altar. She would be grateful if no one would explain to her what that is.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) atMissManners@unitedmedia.comor mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2006Judith Martin

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