Q. Did I commit a faux pas? I served a good New England Clam Chowder with oyster crackers; several of my guests were sniggering behind their Pouilly-Fume. Truly, I did hunt through the shops for clam crackers. Is my social life ruined?
A. Yes. It is obvious that you will never have a satisfactory social life. Devote your self to spreading Pouilly-Fume among the poor.
Q. What is today's directory of protocol in 1) business and 2) social conversation. I am put into situations that require ad-libbing in strange groups and therefore do not have time to determine what is expected or proper for that particular group. My innate tendencey is to keep quiet and I don't want to make a move until I am able to find out, but too often that is an impractical approach.
Is there somewhere a universal directory that I can rely on that will pull me through all sorts of situations?
A. Life is a situation that requires ad-libbing in strange groups. The only certain rule is the one that you have already discovered -- keep your mouth shut and no one will know you are a fool -- but you also already have discovered its limitations. The universal directory is called experience, and it requires a lifetime of trial-and-error ad-libbing to perfect. Miss Manners suggests you get started.
Q. I know that it is good manners and common courtesy to cover one's mouth when coughing or sneezing, but is it also necessary to do so when burping? My husband is irritated if I burp too loudly withou covering my mouth or trying to cover it up somehow. Is there a polite way to handle burps?
A. Technically speaking, it is not polite to burp at all. It is strange, but nevertheless generally accepted, that some inevitable natural phenomena, such as coughing, are socially acceptable, and others, such as burping, are not. The correct thing to do, therefore, is to treat the burp as if it were a socially acceptable cough. In other words, cover it up by making your hand into a fist and placing the thumb side against your mouth.
Q. Help! I haven't been to an evening wedding in years and want to do the right thing. Is it necessary to wear a long dress, or is a short dress acceptable?
A. Short dresses have become fashionable for everything but formal dinners and balls. Long dresses are still acceptable for formal evening weddings, but you are more likely to see short, dressy ones. Miss Manners regrets this and is patiently waiting for this fashion to pass; after all, leg o'mutton blouses came back into fashion, didn't they?
Q. Is it correct to give a present to my friend for an engagement announcement party? I know that some of her friends will be having showers for her later, and then there will be the wedding present. It will be too expensive for me to do it all. What do you suggest?
A. Your question if not so much whether it is correct to give an engagement present -- presents are nearly always correct, with or without occasions -- but whether it is obligatory or even customary. The answer to that is no. Engagements are rarely long enough nowadays to permit the two shopping expeditions, and people outside of the bridal families rerely give them. Shower presents may be extremely inexpensive. Therefore, Miss Manners suggests you concentrate your thoughts and money on the wedding present, which you may send any time during the engagement.