IT IS CHARMING that people like to bring home small souvenirs to remind them of their holidays. Miss Manners would find it more charming, however, if they limited their mementos to items they bought or found on the beach, rather than little things they picked up while no one was looking.
It makes Miss Manners decidedly nervous to see, in someone's house, a towel, an ashtray or a writing pad that bears the logo of a restaurant, hotel or airline. Miss Manners tries her best to think charitably of such persons, in the style of a lady in a Punch drawing who, observing a towel marked "Victoria Hotel" in another lady's bathroom, suggested, "Perhaps it's her maiden name."
But Miss Manners does not succeed in distinguishing between stealing from individuals and stealing from corporations. Whenever she sees stolen goods in someone's house, she reminds herself not to invite them to come and be on terms of intimacy with her own monogrammed linens.
Miss Manners even feels this way about seeing items belonging to the user's employer. When Miss Manners visited the house of an acquaintance who worked at the White House and found the place stocked with White House stationery, memorandum pads, pens and pencils - he had apparently overlooked only the possibility of bringing home a rug with the presidential seal woven into it - she had unpleasant thoughts about her taxes.
But in that case there was, at least, the excuse that the employe needs such things because his work carriers over to the home. Persumably, the president might call and not want his instruction copied on plain paper with the regular governnment-issue pen. (The government must issue that ballpoint pen to everyone within the city limits. Miss Manners hardly knows anyone in Washington, whatever his or her employement, who does not use one.)
Travelers can make no such excuse. Towels, postal cards, forks, miniature bars of soap and paper packets full of sugar are meant to be used by the customer on the premises only. They are not offered as compensation for high prices.
A person who has blown his travel budget on one such establishment and wishes to get his money's worth of status from it may honorably spend his entire vacation writing on the hotel stationery to everyone he knows in the world. What he may not do is to stash away the paper and use it for communications from humbler quarters, including his own.
Miss Manners Responds
Q: You know how everyone goes around asking who the people are in those public opinion polls because neither they nor anyone they know has ever been polled? Well, I've been polled, and I realized afterwards that I said a lot of fool things I don't really believe. My question is, could I have just politely refused to answer all those silly questions? Maybe if everyone did that, we'd be spared all that stuff that pretends to tell what people like me think.
A: No, we wouldn't. Someone would do a poll about people's attitudes about polls.
Q: Is it proper to mush ice cream that is served in a bowl? I prefer to eat it soft.
A: No, it isn't, but it does taste better that way, doesn't it? The proper method is to become vivaciously engaged in converzation as soon as the ice cream has been served, and then, when it has turned into a paddle on its own, one remembers to eat it (provided that everyone else has not long since left the table, and possibly also the house).
Q: Miss Manners has discussed how to introduce one's ex-relatives to friends when they are still on good terms. I thought it would be better if the mother-in-law introduces her grandchildren's mother as "This is Jane. She was my daughter-in-law, but now she is my friend." The brother can introduce his ex-step-sisters as cousins without hurting their feelings. For a new friend, the term "cousin" will suffice. The husband can just introduce his wife's ex-husband as "Jane's first husband." What does Miss Manners think about my suggestions?
A: Miss Manners shudders to think how the current daughter-in-law would be introduced.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blueblack ink on white letter paper) to Miss Manners, The Washington Post.