DO NOT BE misled by the term "common cold." Not everyone is capable of having a cold gracefully. It is far more common to be able to handle being well, which is probably why many people try to avoid having colds altogether.

Consider the delicate matter of where to have a cold. Miss Manners is not so much interested in whether you have it in the throat or in the head as she is in whether you have it in the office or at home, on public transportation or at a friend's party.

Related to this is the question of sharing one's cold with others. It's so difficult to keep such a thing to oneself, but when one has it to spread around, the choice between giving it to one's own family or giving it to one's colleagues is difficult.

For example, the general rule of staying home in bed when one has a cold may not be wise if there are small children there to catch it, and only big adults at work with the sense to shun suffering. In such a case, there are medical considerations as well. A parent who lives with small children may urgently require the sort of quiet and restful atmosphere that only an office can provide.

One does not properly attend social events with a cold, especially if it has an unfortunate effect upon the appearance. Of course, if one has an attractive cold, such as laryngitis, which simply turns one into a good listener, it is hard to resist.

The considerate sufferer will go out in company only when absolutely essential and then will make it a point of honor to look at bad as possible in order to warn others to keep their distance.

On a crowded bus to the doctor's for instance, the signal of disease is to hold up a white handkerchief occasionally. (please don't wave it about. Miss Manners can see it perfectly well from here.)

When required to work or otherwise be out against one's will and after unsuccessfully pleading illness, it is appropriate to produce wracking coughs, to apply the back of one's hand to one's own forehead frequently, and to moan "Oh God," softly. This often smooths the way for the courtesy of leaving early.

However, it is not correct to distribute wadded paper tissues about, sneeze on others or examine the contents of one's handkerchief.

Nosedrops are borderline. Miss Manners does not find the application of nosedrops an aesthetically thrilling sight and would recommend resorting to this only if drastic stage business is required to get across the idea of illness.

Two things are obiligatory, no matter how badly one feels:

The first is to appear to listen to the advice of well people on how they get rid of colds. You do not actually need to listen, as you will hear nothing usefull, but must look at them attentively with sad, runny eyes.

And the second is that if you've been excused on the grounds of having a cold, from something you didn't want to do in the first place, you must go home and shut your front door, after which you may enjoy yourself as much as your health permits. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS

Q. I have been separated from my husband for almost 20 years and haven't gotten married again. I have had so much misunderstanding along the way, but haven't met the man yet who is willing to marry me and give me a home. Now the question is why can't I have a place to live so my children can come to visit me. Maybe I would be happy again with them around me and working with me. Every time I think about going out on dates, they start talking about grandmother being too old, but I don't think so. I am only in my middle 50s.

A. A grandmother in her middle 50s is much too old to have to answer to her descendants about her living arrangements or social life. On the contrary, you are just the right age to gather your family about you and dispense wisdom and advice about how they should lead their lives, while doing just as you please yourself.

Q. I need your advice concerning the wearing of hats. I have recently purchased a chapeau I dearly love. However, because ladies' hats have not been extremely popular as of late, I want to know when and where it is proper to wear them. Can I wear a hat with a pants suit? Can I wear my hat indoors at a luncheon or dinner? Obviously, I wouldn't wear it at the theater, but is it correct at other social events?

A. Miss Manners is willing to love your hat dearly, sight unseen, because she missed hats so dreadfully during that famine you describe. That time, incidentlly, goes back to before the invention of pants suits, and there is therefore as yet no correct way of wearing a hat with a pants suit. (As with high heels and pants, once unthinkable, its time may come.)

The general rule is that if the hat looks as if you had it built, it may properly go to daytime functions; if it looks as if it just landed in your hair (tiny bits of feathers, sequins or whatever), it goes out at night.

Q: I have often wondered whether the questions printed in your column are for real or whether you make them up! In any case, here's mine -- it used to be my understanding that a woman could extend her hand to shake with a man, but that it was not good form to shake another woman's hand. However, in recent times, I have had women offer to shake hands with myself, a woman. Is this now considered good etiquette?

A: Did you make up that question? Miss Manners never makes up the questions, but she often makes up the answers. However, in your case, there is no need to as a perfectly good rule exists, and it has not needed changing in modern times. It has always been proper for women to shake hands with each other. What was considered improper was for a man (or a younger woman) to offer his or hand before the woman offered hers.

Q: The other day, at a resutaurant, the waiter returned some time after I had ordered, saying they had found their last supply of the food I had ordered was spoiled, and thus I could have another selection "on the house." I chose a slightly higher priced meal. Now, assuming that the tip shoud be 15 percent of something, should it be 15 percent of zero, 15 percent of the price of the meal I didn't have, or 15 percent of the price of the meal I did have?

A: Must you be so calculating? Standard procedure for restaurants, however, is for the waiter to figure that it's your tough luck that they ran out of what the menu promised. Fifteen percent of generosity is 25 percent of the value of what you ate, and a thank you. You still come out ahead.

Q: It is a matter of pride to me that my food looks as good as it tastes, and I certainly enjoy being told that an aspic or, especially, one of my fancy desserts looks spectacular.

But the way people put it usually is, "Oh, I'm not going to spoil this -- it looks so good." I know they mean well, but I'm standing there holding a platter out to them, and they don't do anything until I've said "Go ahead" over and over until I lose my patience.

It's heavy, after all, and I have to go around the table with it. How do I convey the idea to the first person that I made it to be eaten?

A: By saying, "Well, I hope you'll change your mind," and moving on to the next person. By the time you get back to the first person after everyone else has been served, the problem -- if not the dessert -- will have disappeared.