SUPPOSE YOU win an Academy Award.
All right, then, suppose you don't. Statistically, your chances of not winning are probably greater, even if you are a member of that segment of the population called Movie Stars. If you don't win, though, Miss Manners needn't worry so much about your being able to handle it properly.
The job of a loser, at the Academy Awards or any other lottery, is simple.
(Not easy: simple.) You need only smile radiantly while saying that you honestly feel that the winner deserved it more, and then smile shyly while saying that you are sufficiently thrilled with the honor of having been nominated. If you can manage both of these convincingly, you deserve an Academy Award.
Accepting an honor is more complicated. Many people can't even accept a compliment without making the giver deeply regret ever having uttered it.
The formula for both begins with, "Thank you." These are easily pronounced words, not difficult to memorize. And yet they are often omitted while the flustered recipient makes a colossal mess out of the optional second part of the response.
This could be either (1) humility or (2) explanation. A small dose of one will do, but certainly not both. If there is any doubt, it is better to omit this section entirely.
An example of reasonable humility is "Thank you -- my mother made it," and of a reasonable explanation is "Thank you -- actually what I did was to transpose the violin part for trumpet." Anything along the lines of, "Oh, this is nothing; I can do much better," or "The idea goes back to when I was a little boy and we all used to get together and make up stories . . ." is not.
The odd fact is that praise and awards always look bigger to the person receiving them than they do even to those bestowing them, let alone those looking on and wondering at the choice.
You would think that people who issue a Checker of the Year Humanitarian Award and anyone who bothers to attend the presentation would expect the recipient to be humble and awed. But owing to some perverse quirk in human nature, too much of that kind of thing gets people to thinking that something that overwhelming was probably not quite deserved.
Here are some guidelines for those who find that this week's chores include accepting an Academy Award:
1. Look pleased and grateful, but not hysterically so. The person who bursts into tears, and sobs that this is the greatest moment of his or her life, is overdoing it.
2. Thank two or three key individuals and perhaps a supportive group, but not your parents, grade school teachers and everyone else who has ever touched your life. That suggests that you are crediting those people with having created something magnificient (you).
3. Understand that you are being honored for one ability and not for being a general national treasure, and therefore keep any utterings of wisdom to your profession, instead of sharing you policies or philosophy of life.
And if you can't manage all this, you might want to consider losing, instead. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. Would you be so kind as to advise me in choosing between hypocrisy and non-hypocrisy? My office is so arranged that phone calls (business and non-business) may be overheard by several neighboring workers. I pretend not to hear the content of personal conversations, but I am often tempted to chime in later to give business information to individuals whom I have overheard. Should I pretend that I cannot overhear any call?
A. Yes. Hypocrisy is a higher form of human behavior than eavesdropping.
Besides, you have only overheard one side of the conversation, and that can be misleading. And besides that, such information is more valuable when stored up for private use than when given out freely as if it has been legitimately acquired.
Q. Leaving aside the question of fashion, is it correct for a woman to wear a hat indoors? I am referring specifically to hats purely for the purpose of adornment, worn while working. I would very much appreciate a prompt answer since I recently acquired an attractive combination of wool and feathers which would look well with one of my suits.
A. You make it difficult when you ask Miss Manners to put aside the question of fashion when ruling on correctness in clothing. Something that was in fashion a generation ago, such as women wearing hats in offices, is always correct, although something in fashion five years ago, such as scarf-wrapped heads for daytime wear, is bound to be incorrect. You know, of course, that there is nothing more fashionable than following the dictums of old-fashioned correctness.
Q. I was so embarrassed when my husband and I walked into the salesperson's office to sign contract papers. The salesman just shook hands with my husband and as I gave my hand, he was sitting down. He and the rest of the people there saw me putting my hand back in shame, so he tried to put forward his hand, but it was too late. It looked like he just didn't want to shake hands with me in the first place! If I had known his attitude, I wouldn't have made a fool of myself. Please give me some tips on avoiding such embarrassments in the future.
A. The person making a fool of himself was not you; it was the salesman. The embarrassment and shame should therefore be his, and the best way Miss Manners can help you prevent such situations in the future is to help you accentuate such embarrassment so that the salesman will try to avoid it in the future.
You do not say what you were buying, but let us assume it is an automobile and that the salesman was making the unbusinesslike assumption that all cars, even those to be driven by women, are sold to men.
The most effective way of riveting his attention to his mistake is to say to your husband, "Darling, I changed my mind. I've decided I really don't want to buy this car, after all. But don't worry, I'll find you something you like." If you don't want to go that far, either with the assumption that your husband will fall into the role or with boycotting something you do want to buy, you might amend this to something like, "Is there a salesman here who deals with women customers? Since we are buying this together, I would feel more comfortable with someone like that." If you say this sweetly, it will make your point, especially if the salespeople work on commission.
Q. Don't you think that good manners, after all, is simple consideration for others? Can deceit find a home in good manners? To the unmarried couple living together, who are considering staying with (I hope only visiting) her parents, you advised the male, "Unpack your suitcase in whatever room they say . . . If after bedtime you should stumble into the wrong room, that is your business."
You are simply saying that the rules of the house of the host may be violated after dark, when no one knows they are being violated. Do you really believe that this kind of thinking is good manners? It is to be hoped that you will rectify this sort of deceit in a future column, so that your faithful readers might understand that the rules of the house visited are to be observed in the still of the night, as well as in the bright of the day.
A. Miss Manners would do anything for a reader who writes "it is to be hoped" rather than "hopefully," but please allow her to defend her distinction between manners and morals.
Manners, indeed, involve the appearance of things, rather than the total reality. Both may need regulating -- Miss Manners is not prepared to argue whether this young couple is right to live together without marriage, or whether her parents are right about disapproving the arrangement -- but hosts have no right to rule on the behavior of their houseguests except as it directly affects them. (They can, of course, refuse to invite people of whose way of living they do not approve, but these parents are obviously and understandably reluctant to go this far with their grown-up children.)
Suppose, for instance, the house rule was against smoking. Hosts have a right to protect themselves from the effects of smoke in their houses.
But if a guest continues to smoke without the knowledge of or consequences to the hosts -- if the guest smokes away from the house, or on the balcony, say, he will have changed his behavior insofar as it affects them. And that is as much as can be expected in the name of good manners.