THE ANCIENT Greek laws of hospitality are the ones to which Miss Manners still subscribes. A host's duties to anyone under his roof are sacred, no matter how anxious he may be to polish him off, for reasons related or unrelated to the visit.
However, if the Greeks had followed Miss Manners' rules of preventive hospitality, they would not, she suspects, have had to give their guests such expensive hints as fully manned ships.
Not everyone needs to know preventive hospitality. Some people are naturally careful about the invitations they issue, and others enjoy promiscuous socializing.
But a surprising number of people are subject to hysterical fits of hospitality, in which they issue invitations ruinous to their every comfort, with mad insistances that these be accepted.
"Let's all go over to my house!" they cry, just as the fatigue of an evening's round of merriment hits them. "Come on - I won't hear of your going home this early. I'm right near by, and I'll whip up something delicious in a jiffy."
"Don't be silly - you're not going to stay in a hotel," they declare to acquaintances who speak of coming to their town to look for jobs and houses, however long that might take. "I have all this room, and it won't be any trouble at all. I'll hardly know you're here."
"Why, we've been talking about going to Mexico, too!" they scream brightly to people who are part of the ties they had been scheming for months to get away from for a complete rest. "Let's rent a van and all go together."
And to anybody who will listen, they say, "Come by anytime - any time at all, we'd love it," when they had planned to get some work done at home.
These are the people who go to pieces when their privacy is invaded. And if you think they look bad, you should see their spouses.
Miss Manners' attitude is that it is better to bar the door to unwanted guests than to get them back out through it. She therefore believes in strong measures to break the invitation habit:
Never issue invitations on the spot to people you have just met. Instead, find out where to reach them, which is just as flattering, and do not call with a specific invitation until you have slept on it.
No invitations to spend more than three hours under one's roof should be issued without the consent of all of those who dwell under it. If one spouse cannot think why the Quiverful family should not be asked to spend this spring vacation in the guest room, the other ought to be able to. And if neither of them can, the children, who have met the Quiverful children, may have some information to contribute.
It is not more gracious to issue open-ended invitations than timed ones, and besides, it is insane. "Please stay with us till Thursday" and "We're free Sunday between 4 and 6, and would love to see you" are perfectly respectable offers of limited hospitality.
And they do not result in the hosts' sneaking off to write Miss Manners desperate letters begging her to tell them how to get their guests to leave.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: My sister-in-law recently had a miscarriage, one of several she has had over the years. They have one child. Do I mention the miscarriage when writing to her and my brother, and if so, what do I say about it?
A: A miscarriage requires a particularly tricky kind of condolence letter, as it concerns the mother's health as well as the loss of the baby. Miss Manners suggests you do it very simply, staying entirely away from the medical aspects of the situation. The jolly assurance that "You will have other children" not only does not compensate for the loss of this one, but may not be true for reasons your sister-in-law does not wish to discuss with you. It is offensive to announce that it was "probably better" that a child who could have had problems not be born. Excessive family talk is inappropriate, too, as it usually comes out sounding as if your side thought that if your brother had married the sturdy woman they fixed him up with, instead of getting carried away with this one, the line would have been better continued.
Q: Is it polite to talk during television programs? Sometimes when we have guests over, to watch something special, they talk right through the program. They're not talking to us - they're talking to the set. I don't mind some cheering during games or when people watch the election results, but I'm talking about dramatic programs, educational ones, etc. They supply extra dialogue, or say, "That's right, honey, you tell him," or yell "Don't do that, he's going to kill you?"
A: Miss Manners would imagine that the only reason for inviting friends to watch television with you, when you could so easily enjoy the uninterrupted program alone, is that your friends produce better dialogue than your television set does. Miss Manners considers it laudatory self-defense for people to talk back to television sets, but suggests you limit your guests to those who enrich the programs.
Q: When are tiara's worn?
A: If you have to ask, you needn't worry about it.
Q: We have recently adopted a beautiful baby boy, whose arrival we happily announced, and many of our friends have sent him nice presents. But most of them behave embarrassingly when they come to visit. Some of them say, "Who does he look like?" and then stop short when they remember he's adopted. Others ask who his "real" parents are, or make remarks that suggest that it must be a deep mystery where he came from. As a matter of fact, we know who his natural parents are, but we don't want to talk about them, and we find the term "real" insulting. Why do people behave so strangely with an adopted baby?
A: Actually, people behave strangely, in one way or another, about any new baby, because there is so little to say about a person of such limited experience. After "How long were you in labor?" and "I think he has your eyes," neither of which is really first-rate conversation, there isn't much left to say, which is why people are at a loss with an adopted baby. As the standard comments are not much less dumb than the ones you are getting, you might as well accept the verbal paucity of the situation and resolve not to be offended. And telling people pleasantly that there are things you refuse to discuss with them sets an excellent example for any baby.
Q: My boyfriend will be moving into my apartment as soon as his lease is up. We will be sharing everything, and I want to do what is proper. I have been used, when living alone, to hanging up my things that I wash out every night on the shower curtain. It's a very small bathroom, and there really isn't any place else to hang them. I don't know if it's right, though, to have my lingerie all over what will, after all, be his bathroom, too. Not that he hasn't seen it before, but my mother says it isn't right. I said I'd ask Miss Manners.
A: Miss Manners says you should ask your gentleman friend. Miss Manners never interferes with intimate actions performed in private by consenting adults.