The etiquette question that troubles so many fastidious people this time of the year is: How am I ever going to face those people again?
Miss Manners recognizes that even the most well-bred person may be subject to a fit of bad behaviour at holiday parties. One many suffer from an overdose, not necessarily of alcohol, but of frankness, cuddliness, reminiscences or other enemies of the social structure. Probably it is a side effect of turkey, a vile animal justly avoided during normal business hours.
The simplest thing is, of course, merely to write a charming note of apology. "I'm sorry I drank your wassail bowl and told you it was a mistake for you to get a divorce."
A common complication, however, is that one doesn't know exactly what one should be sorry for. The major discomfort in what is designated as "remorse" is not shame, but the blind scrambling around an addled brain in search of the answer to "My God, what did I do?"
If you were lucky enough to have been accompanied by an intimate to the disaster-fiesta, you may hear the answer to this question. Without even asking it. This is unlucky. Miss Manners believes that the secret of an unhappy marriage is communication. A truly loving person volunteers nothing and, if pressed with "How bad was I?" replies, "Why I thought you were cute."
However, this information is not as vital as one seems to think at the time. Socially, it is not useful until months later, when the adventure can be charmingly recounted at a party and leave you basking in self-admiration. The worse you behaved, the better the anecdote will then be.
In the meantime, one must resist the impulse to call up the hostess under the pretence of chatting, to measure in her tone of voice the size of the misdemeanor. She's too busy cleaning up the mess you left and thinking what to say to those people she asked especially to meet you.
Instead, send her a small present. This does not incriminate you, as an apology would, and on the fat chance that she thought you were cute, too, it can be simply as gracious gesture. On the other hand, it might help compenstae her for the lamp of life-long friendship of hers you don't remember breaking. Miss Manners Responds
Q: How do I introduce people who are living but not married without embarassing them or offening my other guests?
A: What type of entertainment do you give, that everyone's sexual affiliations must be declared at the door? Introduce people their names.
Q: Before attending a dinner party, should I call my hostess and tell her that I am a vegetarian?
A: Suppose the other guest call, too, announce themselves as being the Atkins diet, Kosher, allergic to seafood and on the grapefruit diet. Is your hostess expected to be a short-order cook? Eat a bean sandwich before you go, and try to be inconspicious about your abstinence.
Q: I was brought up to open doors for women, but now some women are offended by this chivalry, while others will expect it. How can I know the right things to do?
A: It's amazing how many men are willing to give women equal rights in scrambling for bus seats or pushing through doors, but forgot to support the Equal Rights Amendment. When women achieve their rights, it will be time enough to do away with such privileges. Open that door.
Q: When my son comes home to visit, with his girl friend, they expect to share his bedroom. I know they are living together at college, but I don't feel right about it in my house. My son says I'm being Victorian.
A: No, you're not. The Victorian solution, employed with great success at English house parties, was to put illicit couples in separate rooms, but to ignore nocturnal traffic in the hall-way.
Q: I am invoted to a White House dinner, and I heard that it is proper to leave cards for the President and the First Lady the next day. Is this true?
A: That was once, indeed, the charming custom. Unfortunately, guards are now instructed to transfer to a psychiatrist anybody who approaches the White House exhibiting what they consider bizzarre behaviour.