YOU REMEMBER the Ugly American. Actually, he was the hero of the book by that name, who respected other people in their own countries, even if they happened to be foreigners.
But the phrase came to be associated with rudeness abroad, and frightened lots of well-meaning Americans into going native in other countries which, in turn, frightened the natives of those countries. There has to be some mode of behavior other than irritating or imitating that we can practice as Americans in other lands.
Miss Manners proposes the Awkward American, a version of the Oh-shucks character who has proved so endearing round the world thruogh the American cinema.
This involves practicing basic American good manners, with an occasional adjustment to local conditions. The key is to maintain a bashful smile while performing such unnatural acts as walking about indoors with no shoes on or drinking clear but vicious liquids at one gulp.
The time is past, Miss Manners dearly hopes, when Americans who wished to be thought sophisticated adopted English or French manners. The excuse for using European table manners, for example, is always that they are "more efficient" -- as if we weren't getting our fast food fast enough. Nonsense. What they are is more European.
This is silly snobbery, and Miss Manners, as a practiced snob, finds it much more effective to insist on her own nationality. She does not dress up funny when traveling, or join in the conversations about how dreadful Americans are. She understands that it is the American burden to provide humor in other lands, but tries to confine it to speaking the local language as best she can.
However, there are times when practicing American manners would involve commiting rudenesses to foreigners. One must eat other peoples' disgusting delicacies as they do, and observe their proprieties. This is when the Awkward American can be most charming.
The imitation foreigner will, for example, abandon in Japan the perfectly agreeable and internationally understood custom of handshaking and begin bowing to every one. Not understanding that the timing and angle of bowing is a complicated matter, he or she will bob about, offending everyone who is forced to keep smooth on the outside while convulsed with inner laughter.
The Awkward American, when bowed at, will incline the body slightly and ask shyly, "Is this right?" It will not be, of course, but nothing is more ingratiating than asking a foreigner for instruction in his code of manners.
Why, Miss Manners herself is not immune to the charm of being asked what is proper to do. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. We have an important question to ask you about "pushers" -- the non-drug variety.
When our 4-year-old succumbs to our pleas to use eating utensils, he sometimes runs into the problem of needing something --other than his fingers -- for pushing his food onto his fork. We've run into a family crisis: I was taught to use a small piece of bread as a pusher. My husband (although raised at a table with silver pushers that looked like little hoes -- ugh!) insists it's more practical, proper and less caloric to teach our son to use a knife. What would you push?
A. Using the knife to push food onto the back of the fork is a European custom. Using bread to push food onto a fork is also a European custom. Both date from the time that Europe needed all the help it could get.
What do we Americans do? We have a marvelous time chasing the food around plate with a fork turned tines upward; or we use the fork to sneak up on the food unawares and scoop it up before it knows what hit it.
This is indeed a difficult motorskill, but lots of fun once you get the hang of it. Four-year-olds love learning to balance lots of little funny things, as you no doubt realize every time you try to pick up the marbles and Lincoln logs on the floor. Eventually, he should be able to master no-push eating. Nothing in life worth having, including, plump garden peas, comes easily.
Q. What is the difference between a funeral and a memorial service?
A. Put bluntly, it is the presence or absence of the honored person. A funeral precedes a burial or cremation. A memorial service is held if there is no such event for mourners to attend.
Q. I hear people address Ronald Reagan as "Governor" and Gerald Ford as "Mr. President," but of course, they aren't any more.What is proper?
A. Interestingly and illogically enough, the custom is that some titles stay after the bearer has left office, but others do not. The title of governor does, and Ronald Reagan is correctly addressed as Governor Reagan. gMilitary titles also stick, so if you should happen to run into Dwight Eisenhower, address him as General Eisenhower.If you should happen to run into him would you let Miss Manners know?
Q. I'm going to get to meet Nancy Reagan during the convention. How do I address her?
A. Uninterestingly enough, there is no title in America for a consort of whatever rank. Mrs. Reagan is now correctly addressed as Mrs. Reagan, and if her husband is elected president of the United States, she will still be addressed as Mrs. Reagan, not first lady or anything of that sort. However, she may find that position still has compensation making it worth seeking.
Q. I have some white gloves I adore. Of course, they've been out for years, I know that. But is the Republican convention my chance to wear them again?
A. White gloves have been out? What are you saying? What circles do you move in? What on earth have you been wearing on your hands all summer? Of course you may wear your white gloves to the Republaican National Convention. They go nicely with brimmed hats of faked straw with red, white and blue hatbands.
Q. There are just so many Republician losers, all those men Reagan beat.
The odds are that I'll bump into some of them sometime during the convention. tWhat is the correct thing to say?
A. Blurt out, "I understand your name is being mentioned for . . ." and then clap your hand over your mouth, smile, refuse to say anything more, and run off. It will cheer them up immensely.
Q. What is appropriate attire for a hot, sweaty, noisy, crowded convention hall, and how does one avoid being inadvertently (or not) pinched, poked, squeezed or grabbed as one moves through the crowd?
A. To avoid being pinched, poked, squeezed or grabbed in a convention crowd, one must wear either a hooped skirt or a six-person Secret Service bodyguard.
Q. I'm a Detroit cab driver. With the economy as it is, the Dow Jones jumping around every day, what sort of tips can I except from all those political types?
A. You may very well get tips on what the Dow Jones average will be in the days ahead.