Q. I am being married this fall, and have two questions that involve social etiquette. My father, who is a widower, is planning to attend the ceremony with his girlfriend, who is a widow. My questions are: Is it proper for my dad and his girlfriend to be at the "head table" with my fiancee's mother (her father is deceased)? Would it be acceptable for my dad and his girlfriend to stay together at the hotel where most of the guests will be staying? They have always stayed together when visiting here.
I would prefer to have both of them at the head table and don't object if they stay together at the hotel. Some other people in my family evidently object to their staying together.
A. Let us call the lady your father's "intended." This is a slightly slangy word for Miss Manners, but she favors it because of its ambiguity. This will confer on her a quasi-official status that will make it easier for you to carry out your admirable and hospitable intentions. It would also make it simpler for your prospective mother-in-law to explain to her side of the family whom she has seated at the bridal table.
The bride's mother, as hostess, is the only person whose consent you need for this public question; your side of the family are merely guests. As for the private arrangements, they are no one's business at all. What your father and his intended intend to do after the wedding is over, and where they intend to do it, is not a proper family question.
Q. At posh hotel in Washington, I picked up a leaflet advising people on official life in Washington. My wife and I were combining a business trip with some socializing, and had the chance to go to an embassy party given by a country that my firm does business with. We were looking forward to this, not having been to an embassy party before, and read what it said in the booklet which was, in part, "Morning coats with striped trousers are seen more frequently at afternoon receptions and cocktail parties of the diplomatic corps than in most other segments of Washington society, but business suits may be worn to such functions with security."
I thought it would be fun to rent the striped pants outfit, even if I didn't need them, because we were only doing this once. Fortunately, there wasn't time. When we got to the party, I realized that I would have made a fool of myself -- not a single man, including the ambassador and several other ambassadors who were there, wore anything but a plain suit, such as men wear to parties at home.
My Question: Was this a cut-rate party, or even a cut-rate country, we were dealing with? When do diplomats wear "morning coats with striped trousers?"
A. In cartoons and drawings accompanying suggestions that the Foreign Service is not as serious as it ought to be. However, a serious diplomat would read such instructions as the ones you quote more carefully and note the following.
It says "afternoon receptions and cocktail parties," but since embassies no longer give receptions and cocktail parties that are over before 6 p.m., when such clothes may no longer be worn, who's to say that people wouldn't wear them if they did? Also, it says they are worn "more frequently" at diplomatic functions than at those of "other segments of Washington society."
As they are never worn in "other segments," but were at the State Department gathering after President Kennedy's funeral, the statement is correct; one is more frequent than never.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of The Washington Post.