NOW IS THE season for Miss Manners to explain her philosophy of present buying. Isn't it fortunate that this does not include the concept of buying everything early to avoid the Christmas rush?
Miss Manners does know people who keep their eyes open all year long for Christmas presents, so that they can spend the days before the holidays, while others are pushing through crowds to get to depleted counters, in wondering where they put all those advance presents. The objection Miss Manners has to this worthy practice is that if you buy your presents in, say July, those that are just what your friends need will probably already have been bought by them to fill this need, and those that are unsuitable will no longer be returnable.
Miss Manners is also opposed to:
(1) The present that exactly reflects the interest of the person to whom it is given, such as giving a bug collector the latest book on comparative feelers, or a jogger the new designer bag for collecting sweat.
(2) The present of a promise of service: 20 nights of babysitting with your menage, or 11 certificates for pruning your hedge.
Miss Manners' reasoning on the first is as follows: The person who has a specialized interest knows more about it than the present-giver. Having already cast his or her eye on all the bug books or jogging equipment, he has already, from superior knowledge, approved some things and rejected others. If your choice is something he has wanted, the chances are he also has acquired it, even if it meant mortgaging the children, your true expert being something of a fanatic. If he has not done so, it is probably because he has considered the object and scorned it.
As for those certificates for services to be rendered during the year, they are indeed charming and cheap to give. The reason they are cheap is that both the donor and the recipient know perfectly well that they are not collectable.Just wait until that muggy day when your dear friend lets you know that his hedge needs trimming.
Having delivered herself of these dampening opinions, Miss Manners might be expected to announce that one should give money or "gift certificates." Wrong again. Miss Manners objects to money as a present on the grounds that the recipient knows exactly what you paid for it.
The charming equivalent of giving money is to give something that is easily returnable, and not to seem to stare at your friend's mantelpiece on New Year's Day, as if you were wondering where it was.
A more positive aproach is to select something among those things of which one cannot ever have enough.
In this case, you are paying attention not to the expertise of the receiver, but to his or her style.
What falls into this category:
Bottles of wine, diamonds and homemade cookies.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: What do you think about bralessness?
A: Bralessness is a subject Miss Manners hardly thinks of at all. Good taste, in clothing, depends on a delicate ballance of appropriateness to the individual, the occasion and the fashions of the time. There have been times and places were showing an ankle was considered indecent, and others when going nude was not. Miss Manners herself aims at delicately suggesting a slight daringness and awareness of fashion while confirming her basic old-fashioned ladylike air. This is difficult enough, without her attempting to meddle in the closets of others.
Q: How do you clean your nose, if you're not supposed to "pick" it? I'm not trying to be funny-I was told that this is always disgusting, and yet it is obviously necessary.
A: In manners, as distinct from morals-an icky, messy subject which fortunately is not Miss Manners' field-the only recognized act is one that has been witnessed. The number of practices, disgusting or exciting, usual or unusual, in which you wish to engage is of no concern to society if perfomed in private.
Q: How can I deal tactfully with guests who apologize for eating with their left hands? I eat with my fork in my left hand (our entire family does) because we were told it was the most expedient way to get food into one's mouth. Where did we Americans get the idea it was sinful to let one's left hand emerge from one's lap except for one purpose only, something a friend once quoted: Little boys in France are taught to keep their hands (only as far as the wrists-no elbows) above the level of the table to prove they were not (or to keep them from) pinching the girls seated beside them.
A: Allow Miss Manners to correct two minor errors in your assumption, before answering your basic question. First, the most expedient way to get food into the mouth is to put the face in the plate. Two, you underestimate the ingenuity of little French boys. As for the relative merits of eating in the continental fashion-with the fork remaining in the left hand to transport the food to the mouth after having assisted the knife in cutting it-and the American or zigzag fashion-in which the fork is transferred to the right hand-Miss Manners prefers the American style for Americans. Expediency, for the reason stated above, is not the sole object in eating. Miss Manners feels that adopting the continental style implies a familiarity with the Continent, which should be assumed but not stressed.
Q: If a gentleman walking along a narrow, cleared path through deep snow encounters a lady jogger coming around the bend at full tilt, who should yield and step into the deep snow?
A: In all traffic situations, the first to yield should be the first who has realized that there is about to be a collision.
Q: I remember when I went to school, they taught us manners-always to rise when an older person enters the room, please and thank you, pardon me, and above all to be polite. I am a great-grandmother now. Do I have to just make up my mind that these things have passed and make the best of it, and hope and pray that there will be politeness again?
A: It is unfortunate that most people who ere taught to rise when an older person entered the room are now older persons, and thus not in the correct position to demonstrate this nicety to those who ought to be doing the rising. Miss Manners promises you to do her best to set the world right again.
Q: I have developed my own solution for addressing the recipients of business letters whose sex is unknown. I simply use the name of the company, as in "Dear Acme Tack Company," or "Dear Multiglobular Titanic, Inc." This has the advantage of being accurate, easy and not likely to offend anyone. Owners of small businesses are generally proud of their corporate names, and the women who open most of the mail for large enterprises don't expect business correspondence to be addressed directly to them. I doubt anyone who handles great volumes of correspondence notices the salutations, anyway.
A: There was a time when Miss Manners would have objected to your practice, on the grounds that one addresses human beings, not businesses. However, judging from the computerized bills she has received, and the telephone messages she encounters when trying to have these bills properly adjusted, it is now appropriate to assume that one is dealing with machinery and not human beings. It might be a nice treat for the machines to be addressed directly, although they probably, like the humble women workers you describe, don't expect it.