Q. I have been visiting a household in which I am addressed by several small people as "Aunt Ann," a name I detest. Aside from the fact that it makes me sound so old, I find the sound harsh -- it sounds like the beginning of a sneeze.
However, my sister-in-law instructed my nieces and nephews to use the title of aunt with my name, and my preference, that they simply call me by my first name, doesn't seem to make any difference.
They have to check with her, and her word goes. She doesn't want to allow them to be too familiar with grown-ups, so I am stuck with this. Must I sacrifice my good name to their good manners?
A. It is the essence of good manners to address people as they prefer to be addressed, which means adapting one's usage of titles, nicknames and even surnames (as in the case, for example, of couples who have made themselves a hyphenated surname different from that of either family).
Children should be taught to start with the most formal form appropriate (Mr. and Mrs. to non-relatives, Aunt to aunts), and then to accept modifications as offered by the person being addressed. It leaves them with an odd collection of usages, and the lesson that respect has to do with respecting the wishes of others.
Q. When making a tablecloth for a dining table, what is the correct length for the overhang? How much should be added to the width and length?
A. Ten to 12 inches. And please allow Miss Manners to say what a pleasure it is, in these times of psychological confusion and moral debate, to be asked a straightforward question to which there is a straightforward answer.
She will not, therefore, muddle the issue by discussing special circumstances for lace tablecloths.
Q. I must take issue with your statement that, "It is perfectly proper to hang up on a machine." You wouldn't dream of hanging up on someone's secretary, would you? Hanging up on an answering machine is tantamount to hanging up on the person who owns it.
I do a lot a free-lance work which takes me away from home at odd hours. Since I cannot afford a housemaid, do not wish a roommate, and have not been blessed with a husband or children, the only way I can stay in contact with business associates and friends is through an answering machine (my cat refuses to take messages).
If someone calls and hangs up without leaving a message, I have no idea of who tried to reach me or why, and have to listen to several seconds of dial tone instead of a friendly voice.
Therefore, I maintain that the proper response to an answering machine is to state, at the sound of the tone, a message such as "Hello, this is Anastasia, at Winter Palace 2362. Rasputin was mad about the cherry cheesecake you served last week, and I wondered if I could get the recipe."
If is worth the trouble to pick up the telephone and dial someone's number, then it is certainly worth the trouble to stay on the line long enough to say who you are. I submit that it is exactly the same, in modern times, as leaving one's card with the footman.
A. Miss Manners is sorry to be stubborn, but cannot be persuaded to take an anthropomorphic view of answering machines. "Someone's secretary" has feelings. "The footman" has feelings. Your answering machine does not. Your cat and Rasputin, Miss Manners is willing to argue about.