THE HOLIDAYS are approaching, and wouldn't you know that Miss Manners would have a little something special for nearly everyone.
Not presents, of course. Miss Manners wouldn't want to embarrass you by giving you mere gold. She has something more valuable and lasting, even if it is not appreciating quite so rapidly on the world market: Advice. Isn't that a treat?
You may open it and use right now, and it will still be with you when the furs you receive are molting.
For children Planning to Come Home from College, at great Social Sacrifice, to Visit Their Parents for the Holidays: Kisses first, dirty laundry later. The idea is to appear pleased to see the old couple that live there, rather than to rejoice exclusively in the creature comforts they have to offer.
For Primary School Techers: After you have set the holiday pageant and cookie party for 2:15 on a Wednesday afternon, do not inform your pupils that "Now, we want to make sure all the mommies come." This plants the dark thought in little minds that a mother who fails to show up to watch her own child in a non-speaking shepherd rold is a callous woman who has abandoned her flesh-and-blood to seek personal fulfillment and creative gratification at a factory all day.
For Temporary Help in Department Stores: Granted that you cannot be expected to know the stock, be able to fill out the charge forms, or to have known just how unpleasant a task it was to deal with the general public, try to be patient and pleasant. Considering your qualifications, why else are you getting that miserable salary?
For Generous Souls, Who Always Invite the Elderly, the Orphaned and the Otherwise Abandoned to the Holiday Dinner: When you get a refusal, suggest immediately one of the other 364 days of the year that this person could dine with you. It makes the motive for your invitation sound less like a penance.
For Multi-Generational Families Who Gather for Holiday Reunions: Do not relax and be less than a thoughtful houseguest, or allow your immediate descendents to do so, on the grounds that these people are related to you. Blood is not necessarily thicker than water, and it generally helps at this time of year to have a little Scotch in both.
For Those Who Do the Holiday Up Perfectly Every Year, Sending Cards and Presents to Those Who Least Expect Them: Let up, will you? You're only showing off to make everybody else look bad. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. I must comment on your statement that a "napkin" is only called a "serviette" when the person is being snobbish.Actually, a napkin is rightly called a serviette in England, Australia, Canada -- most English speaking countries. They consider a "napkin" to be the sanitary type, or a baby's diaper, neither of which would be appropraite for a dinner table. I have no doubt that you will receive many corrections on this item.
A. Indeed, you are right. About receiving "corrections" that is, about the napkin. Most of the letters on the subject (but not all) were so courteous that the most gracious thing Miss Manners could do would be to admit to error.
Unfortunately, this is not possible. Miss Manners refers you to "U and Non-U, An Enquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy." Professor Ross (of Birmingham University in England) lists "serviette" as non-U," or not upper class, and "napkin" as "U," or upper class, usage in England. He adds that the choice between words is "perhaps the best known of all the linguistic class-indicators of English."
This would sound very snobbish if it were not that, according to the thesis of his essay, fancy, snobbish-sounding words are non-U, while English ones are U.