IT'S NOT THAT Miss Manners has never felt the Impulse Rude. You wouldn't trust a preacher who never experienced the temptations of sin, would you?
It is always the rudeness of others that arouses that bestial desire in Miss Manners. The hotel clerk who shrugs when you ask what "guaranteed reservation" means if having one doesn't entitle you to a room; the waiter who snaps "Can't you see I'm busy?" when you want to get a check and leave as though your business could not be as important as his; the secretary who demands your name, puts you on hold and then comes back minutes later and demands your name again; the taxi driver who asks your destination and drives away while your telling it.
How one longs to strike back. But if rudeness begets rudeness, and then that begets rudeness, and then that begets more rudeness, where will it all end? (And when did Miss Manners turn into that preacher? The verb "beget" was never in her vocabulary before surely.)
There are many believers now in the art of getting back, and many books, classes and discussions on techniques for doing so. Miss Manners often receives letters from people who assume that she is such a believer and can supply a method of "putting down" this person or that.
Alas. At the risk of sounding unbearably saintly, Miss Manners will not suscribe to this behavior. She does not allow rude people to spoil her life, but she does not seek satisfaction in spoiling theirs.
For one thing, they outnumber us. One can easily encounter a dozen provoking rudenesses on the way to work in the morning, and a matching set on the way home. A lunch hour spent shopping, or, for that matter, trying to buy lunch, can increase it tenfold. And for another thing, the counter-rudenesses are escalating, sometimes beyond rudeness itself into violence. Even the lexicon of rudeness one hears these days is explicitly violent, although the spcific words are usually sexual. (If anyone knows why such a nice practice as sex should have to supply the words for uncontrolled hostility, Miss Manners wishes they would explain it to her, because she has never understood. On second thought, she would prefer that it not be explained to her.)
What does one do with one's justified anger? Contary to people who keep telling Miss Manners that hanging up oin their answering machines is as bad as hanging up on themselves (and who therefore never turn off a radio in mid-sentence) Miss Manners makes a distinction between people and things. She will therefore sometimes look the other way if you wish to take out your anger on objects, within legal and sensible reason.
That is dangerous too. A gentleman of Miss Manners' acquaintance who recently kicked a large inanimate object that had offended him found a large animate object emerging from it to continue the fight.
But Miss Manners' meager arsenal consists only of the withering look, the insistent and repeated rfequest, the cold voice, the report up the chain of command, and the tiltled nose. And the ability to dismiss inferior behavior from your mind, as coming from inferior people.
You will perhaps point out that she will never know the joy of delivering a well-deserved sock in the chops. True -- but she will never inspire one either. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. I know it is improper for a wedding invitation to include "black tie optional." However, I would like to have those guests who own formal attire to weat it. In my past experience, formals were worn only when I included the above wording. Would it be in very poor taste?
A. It's "optional" that is objectionable, for being weasly, when you really mean that you want your guests dressed alike. Those who do not own dinner clothes may rent them, or may have the common sense to understand that the option exists of wearing dark business suits. At that, Miss Manners doesn't find "black tie optional" nearly so offensive as "dress optional," which one also sees, but shudders to interpret.
Q. My problem is primarily a romatic one; but since the heart of it is manners, I write to you for help. My girlfriend had a reasonably strict Roman Catholic upbringing that included a domineering mother and an emphasis on correct behavior. I, on the other hand, grew up in a small town in West Virginia and had to learn my manners on the street corners.
My problem is that Beatrice (not her real name) take my lack of breeding very personally. I can count on being corrected at least once every time we are together, and it is assured that if I give her any excuses, or do not correct myself immediately according to her instructions, a fight will ensue. Last night we fought because I had my hands in my casual-attire pockets while waiting at a less-than-elegant restaurant. We once broke up because, at the tail end of a wedding reception, I carried on a conversation (started by a friend of hers) a tad longer than was necessary. This embarrassed her greatly; indeed, it seems I am a constant embarrassment to her.
She has many fine qualities, but lately they have been obscured by what I consider to be her sensitive, dogmatic zealous, "backseat driver" approach to making a civil man out of me. (She can behave any way she pleases, of course, but I ascribe this to knowing the rules and then breaking them.) I become guilt-ridden and anxious just thinking about her, and I'm convinced my woeful state of affairs is due entirely to my boorishness. It's a job being with her, a job that pays lousy and for which I seem to less and less suited. Is it too late to learn? Should i, as my belligerent best friend suggests, find someone as declasse as myself? What is the correct way to handle her admonishments? When it is appropriate for me to correct her?
A. The first rule of good manners is to mind one's own and not other people's. This puts you and Beatrice at an intereting impasse -- she is guilty of bad manners if you attempted to correct this example of her bad manners.
What to do? Well, you could forget the whole thing and begin again, as your friend suggests, although you could easily pick someone classe as declasse -- classe enough to be responsible for herself and to refrain from offering unsolicied advice is something else; it is, in fact Miss Manner's livelihood.)
Or you could have one free day in which each of you gets to name one habit of the other's that your are unable to stand. Miss Manners needn't tell you what your choice should be.