IN ONE area alone Miss Manners has noticed, women have achieved total equality. Even the most unenlightened of men are now allowing women to stand up on crowded buses while they, offering no argument at all, sit in comfort.
This is a complete triumph for equality, because it is extended to all women. Elderly, disabled and pregnant women are accorded the same standing privilege as their stronger sisters.
Miss Manners is always pleased to see consideration for the rights of others, and trusts that this first step that men have taken will lead to their equally enthusiastic support of women's rights in other areas. Money, for example.
By the way of encouragement, Miss Manners will take on the task of smoothing difficulties that arise when old systems are discarded and new ones have not yet taken their place.
The bus situation is far from solved. Buses are now full of resentful faces and over-active elbows, because no system of precedence has been instituted to replace the old one based on gender.
Women who expect seats become indignant. Men who see women indignant because they expect seats become indignant. Young men look embarrassedly away from elderly women to whom they are not offering their seats. Elderly men look embarrassedly away from young women who offer them their seats.
Seated people of both genders are discovering the real reason that it is undesirable to have women standing. It isn't because of any supposed weakness, but because of the strength a purse has when swinging on the arm of a standing woman, at head level to a seated person.
Recognizing that precedence by gender is disappearing, and thoroughly disliking an approach based on every-man-for-himself and every-women-for-herself, Miss Manners proposes precedence based on ability.
It is the reverse of the present method, by which seats go to those most able to push their way into them. Standing room should be the reward going to those most able to stand comfortably.
It works simply. Any person who would obviously find it a hardship to stand because of advanced age, or extremely unadvanced age for that matter, infirmity, or such temporary burdens as born or unborn babies, has first claim on a seat. After these people have been accommodated, the next opportunity goes to people who have burdens that are not acts of God, and will not listen to your argument for putting it in this second category.
After that, the strong may seat themselves wherever they like. And now that you are seated, gentlemen, let us get on with that matter of equality.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: My daughter wants to wear real flowers in her hair for her wedding, and has even talked of getting them out of the garden. It seems to me that the '60s are over, and that a properly attired bride wears either a cap and veil or (my second choice) a picture hat. Which of us is right?
A: Both, for choosing a subject to fight about that will be resolved, one way or the other - and Miss Manners has no particular feeling about which - by the day of the wedding. It is obligatory to have an argument going on in a brides family during the planning of the wedding, but most people choose topics, such as the suitability of the bridegroom and the taste of his family, that lend themselves to open-ended hostility.
Q: Is it polite to tell other people your dreams? A man in my office who is, I believe, in analysis, recites his in a loud voice the first thing every morning to whomever will listen, and all of us around the coffee machine can plainly hear every word. Sometimes they involve sexual fantasies about women at the office. I reached the breaking point yesterday, when he made dirty remarks about a woman I am seeing regularly, and I was about to punch him in the nose, but she took me aside and said that wasn't fair, because they're only dreams, and discussing his dreams are an important part of his recovery. Frankly, it makes me wonder about her, in regard to him.
A: It makes Miss Manners wonder about a society in which such privilege is given to illness, provided it is not identifiable physical illness. Would people feel equally tolerant about the spreading of cold germs or for that matter, other regurgitation?
Q: I must take issue with you on telephone etiquette. You are advising people to tell a lie by saying, "Let me see if he is in." If the calling party has any manners, they will introduce themselves before asking for their party. I will punish my children if they don't find out any information at all. People who do otherwise are making it very easy for would-be robbers, rapists or other troublemakers. Remember, people calling on the phone are uninvited guests. It is not too much to ask them to identify themselves before being invited in.
A: Miss Manners does not feel that politeness requires anyone to supply helpful information to criminals who are telephoning for appointments. "Let me see if he is in" suggests that one is in a busy household where people are coming and going. It is not a lie if one interprets it as the modern equivalent of a lady or gentleman's being "at home to" guests or not. One can be "in" to some people, but not to others.
Q: My children hate it when adults say, "My how you've grown!" or something like that. People do it all the time, of course, and I tell them they just have to expect it. Yet I find myself at a loss when confronted with other people's children. There is some kid, hiding behind his parents' legs, and I find myself saying things just as bad as what others say to my children. What should grown-ups say to children on such occasions?
A: Nothing that would be considered rude if the child said it back. A child of Miss Manners' acquaintance who was brought along to an adult party and told, when he left, that he had "behaved like a perfect gentleman," replied to the host, "So did you." Miss Manners feels that the child came out ahead in this encounter. All basic social remarks are silly; the best one can do is to keep them from being patronizing, as well. "How do you like this weather?" and "Stock market killing you?" may not be brilliant, but they are better than "The last time I saw you, you were only so high."
Q: What is the proper way to serve carry-out Chinese food or pizza? I don't want you to think that I don't know how to serve a proper meal that I cook myself, but what about impromptu gatherings, when you just send out for something? Should I try to pass it off as mine - which is difficult if everybody hears the doorbell ring when it's delivered - or should I just put it out the way it arrives?
A: Many Americans are under the mistaken impression that small paper cartons with metal handles are correct serving dishes in China (or Taiwan), and that large flat cardboard boxes are in Italy. Transfer the carry-out food into your own serving dishes. This does not imply that you cooked it yourself. The cow gets credit for having produced the milk, even if it is put into a glass before serving.
Q: Does a woman have to check her coat at a restaurant? Some restaurants insist on it, and some won't even accept women's coats. If I keep it, what do I do with it - ask for another chair to put it on, or sit on it?
A: Miss Manners wishes that restaurants would stop thinking of themselves as arbitrators of behavior and concentrate on getting the food to the table hot. It is true that the old-fashioned rule is that a lady does not check her coat. (An exception might be made for a nastily wet trench coat.) However, restaurants that do not accept women's coats are not thinking of correctness. They are thinking of their own skins or, as in the case of fur coats, their customers' skins. Safety and etiquette are thus making a rare appearance together. The coat is gently peeled back from the shoulders and hangs nonchalantly over the back of the chair. For this reason, a fur-lined raincoat is the ideal restaurant coat.
Q: Is "5-ish" socially correct form? If so, until what o'clock does "ish" embrace?
A: "Ish" has come to be acceptable for spoken, although not written, invitations. It is extremely tricky, however, because the meaning varies with the hour and the nature of the invitation, so perhaps Miss Manners had better set out a timetable.
Five-ish for tea means 5:20 p.m., while 5-ish for drinks means between 5:30 and 6:15.
Six-ish for drinks means 6:45, but 6-ish for "an early supper" means one should arrive at 7 and will be fed at 7:30. Seven-ish for "a drink" means 7:10, but 7-ish for dinner means one should arrive at 7:30 and will be fed at 9.
Eight-ish for dinner means one should arrive at 8:15 and will be fed at 9.
There is no 9-ish.
Q: I am in the sixth grade and I will be going to junior high school next year. I've been telling my grandma and sister that I will be wearing dresses next year and I won't be getting all muddy from playing in the field. But my friends will think I'm weird if I wear a dress all the time. I want to look nice at times, but I'm comfortable in jeans. I'm confused.
A: Of course you are. The conflicting pleasures of dressing up and messing up have been confusing older women than you through countless decades and fashions. In the sixth grade, you are old enough to defy the conventions of your grandmother and sister, but not old enough to defy the conventions of your friends. That will come later. In the meantime, Miss Manners suggests that if you wear jeans to school and adjacent mud fields, you will look all the nicer by contract when you dress up for social occasions.
Q: Help. I have a dear friend who, at the tender age of 33, has turned into an old Jewish woman. The phrases "Oy vay" and "God forbid you should" have invaded her speech to the extent that I need a comeback - a quick retort - or something.
A: The phrases you quote strike Miss Manners as being vivid and useful, if not eloquent, and Miss Manners is not so foolish as to attempt to top them.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in balck or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of The Washington Post. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, Charles Dana Gibson