THERE IS NO LACK of advice being given out on how to meet interesting people on one's vacation. The lack, which Miss Manners proposes to fill, is of advice on how to avoid meeting interesting people on one's vacation.
People who take the first kind of advice are all over the place -- on beaches, in airplanes, around swimming pools, on ships, in souvenir shops --their tongues and that eager look in their eyes, anticipating the friendship that will change and enrich their lives.
Miss Manners hopes they all meet one another and live happily ever after.
It's not that Miss Manners doesn't like to have friends. Some of Miss Manner's best friends are friends. But Miss Manners generally goes on vacation with the hope of getting reacquainted with Miss Manners, or whomever she has brought with her for the purpose. If that person happens to be Miss Jane Austen or Mr. Henry James, it does not mean that Miss Manners is therefore in need of meeting anyone noisier.
However, people who carry books around with them as conversation starters often bear an uncanny resemblance to people who carry books around for the purpose of reading them. It is therefore necessary that we develop some sensitivity about conversing with strangers.
Many holiday settings come under the old rule that says "the roof constitutes an introduction." This means, for one thing, that one cannot enter a friend's house without a willingness to attempt to reciprocate any friendship offered, however disasterous it may turn out to be. (Conversely, the sky does not necessarily constitute an introduction and a person who is, for example, stopped in an alley at night by a stranger and asked about his current finances is not rude if he resents it.)
Travel and resort situations usually permit people to open conversations with whomever they happen to find themselves near, but only provided they await encouragement before launching full-scale into acquaintanceship. A person who addresses his airplane seat-mate with a friendly but non-commital remark, such as "I wonder if I might borrow the little bag from your seat pouch there -- I don't think mine is going to be big enough," must be willing to allow that person the privilege of retreat. Miss Manners Responds
Q: Don't you think it's rude the way the press gathers around a house where there has been a gruesome murder? How do you think the family feels?
A: That is what the members of the press are trying to find out for you.
Q: I have some friends with a weekend place in the country. There's nothing much to do there, but it's restful, and I enjoy staying there when they invite me. The problem is that they are late risers, and I get up early. They tell me to make my own breakfast, which I would be happy to do, but the minute they hear me running the water for my coffee, one of them comes out --sort of grumpily -- and makes breakfast for me. I've taken to staying in my room, reading and pretending I'm asleep. How should I time getting up so I don't inconvenience them?
A: Time your emergence from your room with the first sound of running water in the bathroom. That way, you should inconvenience no one (except yourself, of course, because you will find the bathroom occupied).
Q: What is the proper attire for an adult with extreme good taste to wear to the International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap? Does this occasion require gloves; if so, how does one picnic? What is appropriate for any "precious little darlings" that may attend with me?
A: One should dress the children as fussily as possible, in order that they may enjoy themselves by getting difficult-to-launder clothes dirty beyond recognition. The adult of extreme good taste will then want to handle them with gardening gloves.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white letter paper) to Miss Manners, The Washington Post.