IF YOU want to give advice to tourists, you have to catch one first.

People traveling abroad, seeing the sights and wearing clothes they washed themselves in hotel bathroom sinks, all turn out to be "travelers" whose motivation for travel is "to avoid the tourists."

They are rarely successful at this, because "the place has been overrun by tourists," but as everyone who approaches turns out also to be a traveler, and the tourists are only "those vulgar people you see everywhere," it is a geographical impossibility to find one.

That is too bad, because Miss Manners doesn't want to berate tourists, only to defend and help them. there was not - hing wrong, in Miss Manners' day, with touring. Our best young gentlemen were always sent abroad during their troublesome years to comit follies that were unacceptable in the homeland.

(Oh. Miss Manners suddenly remembers how touring got a bad name.)

At any rate, present-day tourists are not likely to be guilty of the standard charges against them, such as thinking the dollar is almightly, and throwing American money around contemptuously. Americans are very careful now not to hurt the feelings of, say, Parisians by implying that we find their standard of living pitiful.

Another accusation is that American tourists dress funny. That would be dreadful. One should never be disrespectful of a host country by dressing for the beach or country in its big cities, but learn what is appropriate from the native dress. By this, one deduces that the proper form of city dress for the major cities of the world is a T-shirt with an American college name on it, and a foreign copy of a pair of bluejeans.

Nor is it polite for Americans to expect to eat abroad the same food to which they are accustomed at home. This means that they should not crowd the local McDonald's franchise in a foreign city, but let the local people enjoy it.

Miss Manner does not defend tourists from the charge of being irritable and demanding, but notes that this is the natural state of people who live at the mercy of airlines, hotels and taxi drivers anywhere in the world.

However, she has some advice to relieve this unpleasantness. One suggestion is to accepts the quaint and backward ways of the travel industry, and the other is to learn the rational ways of the society one is visiting.

If one thinks of travel services as being too primitive to be capable of efficiency, one is more tolerant of the inevitable mistakes. If you schedule no more than an hour of purposeful sight-seeing, and an hour of aimless looking about in one day, this will leave plenty of time to deal, in a relaxed fashion, with food, accommodations and transportation.

This will also relieve the tourist from m overwork at national monuments, a major source of his peevishness. It is a proven fact that no one at home will ever know how many sights you missed, as one's friends always tune out or wander away 3 1/2 minutes after saying, "Tell me about your trip."

In viewing foreign societies, one should assume that there is an orderly system for doing things, but that it may require translation. More important than learning the rate of currency exchange is finding out what is meant by suchwords as "You must come and stay with us," "That is a very fine antique, and we won't accept anything less than $100 for it," and "Meet me at 10 sharp."


Q: Is there a rule of etiquette that covers when one should place a dinner napkin on the lap? Recently, a friend corrected me on this. He feels it is correct, when in a restaurant or club, to unfold the napkin and place it across the lap the moment one sits down at table. I feel that when planning to spend sometime over cocktails before ordering, common sense rules that I place the napking on my lap as the dinner is ordered - or better yet, when dinner is served. It may sound like a tempest in a teapot, but a wager is riding on this. Does it depend where you are - how formal the dinner, how elegent the restaurant, what country you're in - or is it a hard and fast rule for all times?

A: Common sense has nothing whatever to do with etiquette, but in this case, it happens to coincide with the hard and fast rule that one puts one's napkin on one's lap immediately upon sitting down at the dinner table, regardless of whether it is a cocktail or soup that one is first planning to spill on one's lap.

Q: Look at this ad for silver. You see how contemptuously it says: "Still using a teaspoon for coffee . . . really? Then the part about this wonderful new invention, the sterling silver coffee spoon, $19.75 each: "Not as large as the conventional teaspoon that slides off the saucer. Not as tiny as the demitasse spoon. But just in between. A sterling jewel, proportioned and balanced to look beautiful with today's taller coffee cup." And so on. It makes it sound as if anybody who would use a teaspoon with coffee, which is what I've always thought proper, isn't fit to mix with decent folks. Okay, Miss Manners - do I have to run out and buy coffee spoons? Is that what you are doing?

A: Miss Manners has other things to do first. One of them is to search her personal history to discover whether spoons sliding off saucers has been a major inconvenience in her life. Another is to ask herself what in the world "today's taller coffee cup" is. If it is the kind of big mug people put their faces into in the morning before they wake up, it would only be embarrassed if you gave it a sliver spoon because it wouldn't know what to do with it. It would probably try to solve the problem by pushing the spoon off the saucer, which may be where that problem came from - although, come to think of it, mugs don't even have saucers.

Teaspoons have little enough employment as it is, considering that they are sold as an essential part of the "basic place sitting," without being deprive of the job of stirring full-sized cups of coffee. Coffee is only properly served in a large cup at breakfast or at tea parties, and considering how many people use mugs at breakfast and live comparatively full lives without giving tea parties, that is hardly a full-time job for the teaspoon. (Demitasses cups and spoons are used for coffee that follows lunch or dinner.) The teaspoon also gets to stir tea, of course, and to help out with the gragefruit or jam if no specialized spoon is available. Many people use teaspoons for dessert, but that is incorrect. Do you have big oval dessert sppon? If not, don't let Miss Manners hear any more talk about needing coffee spoons, or she'll push you off the saucer.

Q: I am writing about your answer to the girl who wrote asking which way to properly put the top sheet on a bed. I was taught to put the sheet face up, and especially in these days of inflation, this practice makes the most sense. You put the top sheet face up so that when the bed is changed at the end of the week, this sheet can be used again, as the bottom sheet. Then it faces up, leaving the face of the sheet untouched by the body (during the previous week). I know you will not print this, though, because Miss Manners can not accept a sensible correction.

A: No, no, it isn't sensible corrections that Miss Manners finds unacceptable. It's dirty sheets.

Q: My daughter-in-law doesn't write to me; she "carbons" me. That is, she writes frequent letters to my other daughter-in-law, who was, in fact, a college friend of hers and the one who introduced her to my younger son, and then she sends me carbon copies of those letters. I don't want to seem unreasonable about this, and I know that in large families, people might need to send around copies of letters - because they just don't have time to write every one individually, but in our case, it is just me and the two boys left, and it hurts me never to get a letter that isn't secondhand, except twice a year, on my birthday and Mother's Day. It seems to me that she could copy out the family news twice, without seriously cutting into her leisure time. I suppose you agree with her and think I'm being a difficult mother-in-law.

A: Not at all. Miss Manners, who is difficult herself whenever it is politely possible, also dislikes carbons of letters. Her feeling is that it brings families of any size closer together if, instead of writing everything the same way to everyone, one writes a different short piece of news to each. That way, in almost the same amount of time, one provides everybody with gossip for trading purposes. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, by Charles Dana Gibson