MEMORY, to the best of Miss Manners' dim recollection, used to be an interesting and original thing.
It was eccentric in what it selected, skipping the obvious in favor of the curious. One's wedding was often ablur, while moments containing nothin more than the touching of finger tips may have been framed in gold. A child's first birthday may have disappeared while a babyish look of trust may have gotten itself accidentally engraved. An exotic trip may have faded, while the picture of a domestic moment continued to burn brightly.
Naturally, all of this was only possible before the wide-spread use of the family camera. Now that every family has its official record-maker, there is no room for wishy memories in the world of indisputable snapshots.
Life is no longer something to remember. It has become, as we say in the media business, a photo opportunity. Baby is not allowed to take his first step when he first feels brave enough to attempt it: He must wait until his parents have loaded the camera.
Here Miss Manners must step in. Miss Manners is the patron goddess of all social events, and a lot of family events as well. She is therefore in a position to tell all professional and amateur photographers that they may only record such events if they allow the events to take place.
A wedding in which the bride and bridegroom pose for photographs kissing, eating cake, standing with their wedding party, standing with their parents, cutting cake, eating ice cream, standing with the out-of-town guests, drinking champagne, throwing bouquets and otherwise following a photographer's schedule of expected events is not a wedding.
A holiday trip in which members of the party are retired to spend their time standing in the hot sun in front of tourist sites is not a vacation.
A birthday party in which celebrants are instructed when to open their presents and to blow out candles on cakes is not a party.
These are all photo opportunities, and people who take advantage of them will pass through life without having experienced weddings, vacations, parties or other such human activities.
Now, Miss Manners does not wish to take upon herself the outrage of all camera enthusiasts, knowing, as she does, that they are armed. Therefore, she wishes to suggest a compromise by which photographers may save such activities for the albums, without having to destroy the activities in order to do so.
One way is the truly "candid" picture. A candid picture is not, as many people seem to believe, a photograph in which a bride has been instructed to feed a cake to a bridegroom who, in turn, has been instructed to eat it.
The next is the true photo opportunity. The old set-up photograph, done at a crucial moment between the bride's last virginal hair appointment and the wedding ceremony, well served the true purpose of wedding photographs, which is to give the couple's descendents something to laugh their heads off at years later.
Posed photograph sessions at weddings are so notoriously abused that Miss Manners would ban them entirely, relying for all the "formal" pictures on the advance sessions, and trusting to catch-as-catch can for the rest. On vacations, the best posed session would be in the airport with all the luggage, a time that does not interfere with anyone's pleasure and is apt to be beautifully typical of the trip.
Otherwise, those who aspire to record life photographically must be made to realize that they must not interfere with the natural course of life and record things that would not have taken place otherwise. There is little enough improvisation left in life as it is.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: I was brought up to believe that it was the man's place to hail a taxi, call the waiter, etc. I know there things are changing, but the men I know date from my own era, so that doesn't affect us.
But what does bother me is that I often find myself in a position where we will both lose from the man's inattention, when I could have saved the situation. For example, we are standing on a street corner, and I see an empty cab, but he doesn't until it going past us. Or I spot the waiter, when we have been waiting 20 minutes for drinks, but since I can't call him, I can only tell my escort that I saw him-which doesn't help because by the time I explain this, the waiter is gone. What can you suggest?
A: You obviously have the wrong intonation when conveying this information. If you say to the gentleman, "There's a T-A-X-I!!!!" or "I see our WAAAAAITER!!!" you can accomplish what you wish without committing the sin of summoning heop on your own.
Q: How do you eat spaghetti with a spoon?
A: Bite your tongue. This is not an eating instruction, but an oldfashioned ethnic reprimand to anyone who would even entertain such an outrageous idea as eating spaghetti with a spoon.
Actually, there simply is no easy, foolproof way to eat spaghetti, and that is just as well when you think of how gloriously fat we would all be if there were. The inevitable slippage of spaghetti from the fork back onto the plate is Nature's way of controlling human pigginess. A fork is the only utensil which may be used to eat spaghetti while anone is looking. It must make do with whatever cooperation it may muster from the place and the teeth. The fork is planted on the plate, and the spaghetti is then twirle around the tines of the fork.
If you can manage to use the grated Parmesean cheese to add grit to the mixture for better control, so much the better. The twirled forkful is then presented to the mouth.
If this were an ideal world, all the spaghetti strands would begin and end in the same place, so that the mouth could receive the entire forkful at once. However, we have all learned that compromise must often be made, and the fact is that one will often find a few long strands hanging down outside of the mouth.
As you may not spit these parts back on the plate, what are you to do with them? Well, for heaven's sake. Why do you think God taught you to inhale?
Q: There is a long escalator at my subway stop, and running down it often makes the difference for me in making or missing a train.
In fact, there's a second, shor t escalator you have to take next, but as that is rarely working, everybody has to walk or run down it. My problem is that people standing on the working escalator are always in my way as I run down it, and get annoyed if I bump them, which I try not to do but can't always help. It seems to me there ought to be some rules of organization about escalators. I've been on them in other countries, where people who are not walking on them are instructed to stand to the right, leaving the left free for the walkers.
A: That, of course is an excellent system, and one that Miss Manners hopes will be adopted in this country as we catch up with the technological advance of more privileged nations. In the meantime, Miss Manners suggests you adopt skiiers' precautions and call out "On your left!" as you come down behind them, or, as the case may be ?Out of control!"
Q: Last night we went to a dinner party at the home of some neigbors we've never visited before. They have a big dining room, and it was fixed up with candles and everything, so I asked the hostess where I should sit. She said, "Oh, just sit anywhere," so I did. Then the host said, "No, I'm sitting there"-it was a sort of oval table, so I couldn't tell what has the head of it-so I moved.
I picked another place, but then we were told to get up to get our food from the buffet table, and somebody else sat down in that place. So then I took my plate and sat down again-you notice that this is now the third time I've tried to sit down and have dinner-and guess who comes and sits next to me? My wife.
I know married couples aren't supposed to sit next to each other at dinners, but I didn't know she'd been sitting there and was up getting her plate filled. She claims I should have noticed that her purse was on the chair, which was ridiculous-all the ladies had little black purses-and part of a fight we got into afterwards because I got fed up when the hostess noticed where I was and said, "Oh, you two can't sit next each other," and my wife sat there as if she weren't ever going to move.
But I still was nice, and I said, "Okay, where do you want me to sit?" and the hostess said, "Oh, sit anywhere," and when I looked at her-this is now the third time she or her husband has made me move-she said, "I mean anywhere else." So I took my plate and went and sat in the living room. Would you mind telling me what the hell "Sit anywhere" means?
A: It menas that the hostess has not taken the trouble to finish planning her dinner party. There is a mistaken notion that this omission is a sign of merry insuciance on the part of hosts who would not dream of failing to orchestrate every other aspect of the party. If the hostess cannot carry the seating arrangement in her head so that she can give you a decent answer to your decent question of where you should sit, she ought to use place cards.
Miss Manners would go so far at to recommend notifying the guests in advance of what the seating arrangements will be, either through a prettily arranged chart in the hall or distributing small envelopes with the names of dinner partners inside. That way, one does not use up one's best stories on one's dinner partner during the cocktail hour, thus barring oneself from repeating them at the dinner table.