YOU, OUT THERE in Brideland, you sweet thing:
Are you planning your wedding so that it will be perfect in every detail? Do you expect it to be the happiest day of your life?
Miss Manners sincerely hopes not.
Few of those who prattle about that "happiest day" seem to consider the dour expectations this suggests about the marriage itself from its second day on. They don't realize that the wedding reception is basically a large party, and is therefore not perfectable because there are too many variables, not to mention too many people who one thought would not accept.
At any rate, someone whose idea of ultimate happiness is a day spent at a big party, even spent being the center of attention at a marvelous big party, is too young to get married.
But this notion of weddings persists, often working directly against the purpose of the wedding, which is to create a new family unit, and not to put cracks and strains in old ones.
Miss Manners' advice to young brides is to plan a wedding that will be pretty and festive but not to attempt to make them grand on a scale unrelated to the rest of their lives, and not to expect them to be perfect.
Many an otherwise lovely bride has turned ugly attempting to create a "dream" occasion and to make everyone else conform with her conception of their roles in it.
A warning that one has strayed too far afield is an excessive preoccupation with everything's being done "right." Weddings are rare events in most people's lives, and Miss Manners has no objections to the participants seeking advice on correct form. She dispenses such advice herself, right and left.
But if one needs professional direction - not just help or advice - in every aspect of the wedding, it may mean that one has wandered into completely foreign social territory and should think about heading home. One's wedding should be a heightened version of one's best social life, not an occasion for people to attempt to play grand and unfamiliar parts in a fantasy play.
Another warning about expecting a perfect day is that this carries a bulti-in potential for disappointment. There are adults who go through life expecting other people to make their birthdays perfect for them, and if you ever meet one of these, watch out. Nothing will ever be enough for them.
What Miss Manners wishes all brides is not the happiest days of their lives, but jolly gatherings of family and friends, in which they are the objects of general admiration, but everyone has a good time.
They will then have some happiness left over in which to live happily ever after.
MISS MANNERS REPONDS
Q: I often take short business flights and find that airplanes can be terrific places to meet people. Or they can be awful, if you know what I mean. I have just one etiquette problem about this; the rest I can handle myself.
My wife drops me off early at the airport because she has to drive the children to school, and I have breakfast there and am the first person on the plane.This gives me the chance to take a seat in the middle, where I can look people over as they get on, and I find that if I smile at someone when she boards, she will often come and sit down next to me. Not always, but often. Sometimes I help it along by saying, "There's a seat here, Miss."
My question is, what can I say if someone undesirable, if you know what I mean, tries to plop down next to me even before the plane begins to fill up and there are plenty of other seats?
A: Yes, Miss Manners knows what you mean.
There are days when Miss Manners has to say to herself, "Just answer the questions - you don't have to like them." You know what she means?
The answer to yours is that you should do your stalking in the small lounge area near the gate where you will be boarding. That is the place to go early, so that you can maneuver to get in line behind your intended victim. Then it is a simple matter to seat yourself next to her on the airplane, instead of taking chance on who will sit next to you.
A: I have a friend who talks all the time about ancestors. He didn't used to, but now he's involved in what he calls a "history project" about his family, and we're never going to hear the end of it. It sounds to me like plain old bragging about the best part of his family being long gone and nowhere. Isn't this topic considered taboo among polite people?
A: Among polite people descended from the upper classes, yes. But bragging about one's ancestors is quite fashionable now, if one can claim to be descended from the lower classes. Much such claims are exaggerated, of course.
Q: I am frankly a very good tennis player, and would enjoy meeting new partneers I can play with. But I am always being asked to play by people who turn out to be much worse than I am, which makes the game no fun for me. When potential partners ask me how I play, I don't want to sound conceited, but I say, "Okay" or "Not bad," and they say they are, too, and I end up wasting a lot of time, in addition, ofter, to court costs. How closely can I quiz people about their ability, and how frank should I be about mine?
A: You may be quite blunt about both. In one-to-one sports each person has an obligation to represents his degree of skills and experience as honestly as he can in order to avoid catastrophic mismatching. This rule does not to love-making.
Q: We often have friends dropping in, and also our family likes to snack while watching TV, so I generally have a bowl or two of nuts out in the family room. My husband and also some of our friends are in the habit of messing around in the bowl until they find the kind of nuts they want, leaving the others. To one, such manners are selfish and disgusting. Why should handling food and not eating it be any nicer when it's mixed nuts that it is for candy or whatever? Doesn't this type of this behavior make you think about the way a person was brought up?
A: Actually, this type of behavior makes Miss Manners have philosophical thoughts. It makes her think that life is a bowl of mixed nuts, and that the temptation to go for all the cashews is irrestible.
Q: What is the best way to display wedding gifts?
A: By putting them to their intended use in the bridal couple's home, for guests to admire or not admire as they wish. Miss Manners cannot say that the custom of displaying wedding presents at a wedding reception is vulgar, as it had been done for generations, nut she can say that it is barbaric. The curiosity of one's friends as to one's china and flatware patterns is probably not overwhelming, and the only feeling satisfied when a bride sets up a dry goods department in her house is curiosity about two spent what. This is a nasty instinct and ought not to be judged.
Q: I hate it when animals jump on me, but other people's pets are always doing so. Dogs, particularly, are such sycophants that they always ignore the guests who are trying to pet them and throw themselves at animal-haters, such as myself. I have always had dogs lapping at me, jumping on me, or just hanging around with their stupid tongues out and looks of worship on their faces, and often the owners are doing the same. Or at least they say something that indicates that I ought to feel flattered by this repulsive attention. I'm not. I'm not above kicking a pesky pet, either, when the owner isn't looking, but what can I do to get rid of it when my host is looking right at me?
A: The most tactful thing to do would be to annouce an allergy. This is not strictly a lie if you define "allergic" loosely, the way sophisticated children have learned to do, as in "I think I'm allergic to vegetables."
Q: My fiance refuses to take an interest in the arrangements for our wedding. There will be about 200 people, 100 from his side and 100 or slightly more from mine, with a reception in our families' country club. There is a lot of work to do, and I don't mind that so much, but it worries me that he is so bored by it. Is this a bad sign?
A: No. While a bridegroom is not actually superfluous at a wedding - most states requires one before issuing a license - he is all but superfluous, and need not be a enthralled by the preparations as the star. However, this tendency might bear watching. If his lack of interest interferes with his participation, in other words, if he doesn't attend the wedding, this could be a bad sign.
Q: Are there any circumstances in which one can receive guests while in bed? I'm not kidding, and I' not talking about sex, either. French kings used to hold court while lying in bed. So why can't I, who spend most of my free time reading, working or telephoning in bed, ask guests who drop by the house to come upstairs and visit with me when I'm comfortably in bed? What's the difference?
A: A general rule of hospitality is that the host does not enjoy anything which he does not offer to his guest. The difference between you and a hospital patient is that the patient may safely assume that his visitor does not wish to be given what it was that landed him in bed.
Q: When does a gentleman offer his arm to lady as they are walking down the street together?
A: Strictly speaking, only when he can be of practical assistance to her. That is, when the way is steep, dark, crowded or puddle-y. However, it is rather a cozy juxatposition, less compromising than walking hand-in-hand, and rather enjoyable for people who are fond of each other, so Miss Manners allows some leeway in interpreting waht is of practical assistance. One wouldn't want a lady to feel unloved walking down the street, any more than one would want her to fall off the curb.