DEMOCRACY IS a perfectly wonderful idea, Miss Manners fervently believes, provided it does not give funny ideas. It is difficult to feel the proper patriotic passion for equality while being sassed by one's inferiors.
If this does not seem an apporpriate sentiment for the Fourth of July, it is only because the terms Miss Manners uses may be subject to misunderstanding. She yields to no one in her love for America as a land of opportunity. The only quibble is over what we want the land of opportunity to do.
Miss Manners does not believe there is any such thing, anywhere, as a classless society. But she has noticed that talent, intelligence and perseverance seem to be randomly distributed in the population, without respect for money, let alone race, religion or sex. Therefore she sees democracy as a system that allows people to change classes, according to their abilities.
And as many people will, at least temporarily, occupy the lower part of the structure, she believes that they ought to do it gracefully and well. Dear Mr. Jefferson, adorable Mr. Franklin and others who so enjoyed pleasant living did not intend, with their services to the common man, to make all of us behave as if we were common. Nor did they intend, in a country where the most honored people are called public servants, to dishonor the idea of service.
Yet the idea has gotten around that there need be no hierarchy in the job structure. And since there obviously is -- one need only check one's paycheck -- people in the service jobs seeks compensation by behaving with inefficiency and surliness to those whom they are supposed to serve. The worst offenders are not those who are stuck in such jobs, but the people -- such as college students with temporary jobs -- whose upward route seems clearly marked.
The widespread use of first names, sports clothing, audio recreation and other attributes of "informality" in the work world has assisted in the illusion that no one really needs to perform a service for anyone else.
And the result is that badly paying jobs are badly done.
Miss Manners has not failed to catch the irony here. She is not unsympathetic with the ambitions of workers to be paid their worth; only with the determition to scale down the performance to worthlessness.
People in service jobs -- waiters, clerks, parking lot attendants, taxi drivers, whatever -- do not prove, by being efficient and rude, that they are meant for better things. They merely show that they can't properly handle the jobs they have, many of which can be done with cleverness and skill.
Miss Manners' ideas of democracy is a society in which the lower classes practice the kind of graciousness that will fit them perfectly for upper-class protection. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. Is it correct, when putting decorative sheets on a bed, to have the decorative flat sheet facing up or down toward the bed? My guess is up, and mother's is down. Is mother always right?
A. The answer to your second question is: Yes, mother is always right. This is a point of etiquette and has nothing to do with whether or not her information is correct.
However, your mother happens to be correct about the bed sheet. The printed side goes toward the mattress so that the part near the pillow will, when turned back over the blanket, show the decoration. But, you will protest, what if there is no blanket on the bed? Then the wrong side of the sheet will be exposed on the greater part of the bed.
Go ask your mother what a "blanket cover" is.
Q. Does a gentleman's "tipping" his hat look too much like a military salute? Since I seldom see any male wearing a real hat, I'd almost forgotten this gesture. I think it's been at least 20 years since this has meant grasping the hat brim and either lifting the hat an inch or two, or just grasping and releasing the brim.
A. You have obviously not met a polite cowboy for 20 years.
The rule is the same now as it always was. A gentleman removes his hat when speaking to a lady or sharing an elevator with one, and lifts his hat as a gesture to a stranger from whom he receives a courtesy or thanks for a courtesy of his. As you have noticed, however, it does require a hat and is therefore seldom performed. The military salute is much more energetic, but it also comes with PX privileges.
Q. What should a lady keep on hand for the comfort and convenience of a gentleman guest who may be spending the night unexpectedly? An extra toothbrush? Shaving equipment? Perhaps a comfortable bathrobe? Slippers? Should I keep them in different sizes (small, medium and large)? I'm only interest in being a gracious hostess.
A. Miss Manners can see that. But what are you running there? Or rather, as Miss Manners deals in manners, not morals, what do you want to appear to be running? The kindest answer Miss Manners can think of is a Japanese inn, as those establishments, and no others that Miss Manners knows of, issue fresh kimonos to their guests.
Even the most gracious American hostesses, and that is what you say you aspire to be, offer their houseguests nothing more than a fresh toothbrush, towel, soap and perhaps a good book to read if they get bored at bedtime. In offering the eqiupment you descirbe you do not flatter your guest. Suppose you were overcome with passion while visiting a gentleman and were then offered a wide choice of sizes and styles in nightgowns? If you think your gentleman guest might be embarrassed to leave your house unshaven in the morning, you might keep a fresh one of those throwaway razors designed for women on hand, and tell him it was a spare one of your own.
Miss Manners imagines that you can manage to dispense with the necessity of a man's bathrobe under the circumstances.
Q. What do you think of someone who always burps aloud? Isn't it annoying? I think so. Please help solve this problem.
A. Which problem is that? But the solution to the annoyance problem is the same anyway, as the solution to the burping problem: Try your best to conceal it.