JUST WHEN you think you have succeeded in getting away from it all, that you are free of all questions of form because you are on holiday and don't even have to put your shoes on, let alone your manners, you will have a panicky thought about Miss Manners. The thought will be, "Wish you were here."
This will have nothing to do with sympathy for your poor Miss Manners, stuck toiling away in the hot city. It will mean that you are in trouble. Big etiquette trouble.
This will happen just after you have begun to wind down and relax. You will stop somewhere on the street, during a leisurely stroll, and purchase post cards. Or perhaps you will pick them up free from your hotel, or perhaps you will pick them up free from the lobby of a hotel more expensive than the one you are staying in.
Still calm and confident, you will make yourself comfortable at the beach, or at some foreign cafe, and go cheerfully to work, selecting which card should go to which person on your list, and stamping and addressing them.
Then you will stare hopelessly at a blank space, not three inches square, while you slowly realize that you have nothing intelligent to say in a post card. That is when you will wish for Miss Manners to explain correct post card style. All year long Miss Manners is asked about the complexities of writing $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE $&)See Manners, £6, Col. 1 > $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE $&)Manners, From £1 > letters of business, gratitude, condolence and congratulation, but the post card, that staple of summer correspondence, is something people mistakenly assume they can manage for themselves.
If you could just write "Wish you were here," not to Miss Manners but to all your friends, the matter would be simple. Unfortunatley, this convenient message has gone out of fashion on the irrelevant grounds of being insincere.
People who worry about writing "Sincerely yours" to people to whom they do not sincerely belong, do not realize how important a little insincerity is to a peaceful society.
The only easy thing about post cards is that they need not use any such closing, or any opening, either. The rest is difficult.
Miss Manners' first solution is to prune your list. Like Christmastime, summertime is an opportunity to send brief greetings to people one does not otherwise remember. Like Christmastime, one tends to greet people who do not remember one.
This is a reason to identify oneself clearly at the end of the post card, and not assume that its informality means that nicknames or initials will do. Post cards do not even give the clue of where the sender lives, but only where he vacations.
Now for the message. The most important thing to remember about a post card is the wide audience it will receive. Reading someone else's letter is a high crime; reading someone else's post card is in a category with jaywalking - not a good idea, but everyone does it and the chances of getting away with it are good.
It should therefore be discreet, or at least ambiguous. "Lola and kids staying on - meet you Tuesday, Marshland Marriott" is not a good post card message.
Neither is the temperature or population of a foreign city, which is not only dull but sounds smug to a person stuck at home. "Prices here out of sight" is preferable, but not terrific.
Humor is out of the question. It looks terrible, when you get back to the office, to see something that was funny when you were full of pina coladas pinned on the bulletin board. Anyway, most post card humor is unintelligible to the recipient, who forgets to look at the post card picture on which the joke is based.
Taking into account all these pitfalls, Miss Manners proposes the perfect all-purpose post card message that can be sent to anyone: "Thinking of you."
It can mean anything up to, and even including, "Wish you were here."
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: Our family has raised this question several times at the dinner table, and with several opinions. Is it good manners to hold food, such as bread or a dinner roll, in one's hand while using your fork in the other hand?
A: This is not the proper role for a roll. However, they are often hired, freelance, by forks in need of discreet assistance. If the fork cannot, for instance, capture those last three peas singlehandedly, it may engage the roll to take a quick swipe at the peas to make them surrender to the fork. This must be done without the apparent knowledge of the person attached to both fork and roll, who must assume an absent-minded expression. To hold two items of food in two hands with a purposeful expression, makes one look extremely greedy. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, by Charles Dana Gibson