Q: What do you say to a hostess the next day when you don't really remember how you behaved at her party? Maybe you were perfectly all right, in which case you don't need to apologize and in fact doing so would only call attention to something you got away with concealing, if you know what I mean. But maybe you weren't OK, in which case you ought to say something if you want to be forgiven and invited back some day. How about just "I had a wonderful time." Is that neutral enough to be grateful-sounding without going into details?
A: Well, no. She may be already aware, perhaps more aware than you, of how wonderful a time you had. The apology, if indeed you owe one, is likely to be needed in connection with the effect your wonderful time had on the rest of the party. How about saying to her, "You were magnificent"? That covers anything from her simply being a good hostess to her having tolerated your bad behavior.
Q: With the advent of in-home telephone answering services, a problem of etiquette has arose. What should one do upon reaching one of these electronic marvels? I hang up whenever I reach an answering service, as I hate talking to a machine. I know this is not proper, but what is?
A: Has arose? Anyway, it is perfectly proper to hang up on a machine. In fact, the whole concept of proper and improper does not apply between people and machines. Miss Manners has enough trouble getting people to be polite to one another, without worrying about whether they are treating machines with consideration.
Q: I'm having a somewhat unusual disagreement with my new roommate on a point of etiquette. We share a dormitory room. It is my habit to pray (silently) each evening before retiring. Whenever I try to do so in our room, however, my roommate throws things at me or chases me out of the building. He says it's rude to carry on a private conversation in the presence of a third party. I say he's full of it. What do you say?
A: That person who attacks violently one who is engaged in prayer is obviously a great authority on etiquette, whom it would be futile and probably dangerous to contradict. However Miss Manners would point out that your roommate is perfectly free to join into the conversation with the Third Party provided he observes the convention you do of doing it in silence.
Q: Is there a convention that subway exits and entrances should both be from the right? In boorish New York City, one understands pushing and shoving. But even where people try to be courteous to each other, every time doors open to load and unload passengers, there's a jam-up.
A.The American subway conventions have, led by New York City, always consisted precisely of pushing and shoving. Those who practice it think of it as a challenging social form and pride themselves on adroit maneuvering during jam-ups. However, Miss Manners thinks you raise a valid point when you question whether non-New Yorkers should not develop their own conventions for the situation. In that case, yes, the sensible thing would be for everyone to move to the right.