A GENTLEMAN Miss Manners knows has no automobile, no telephone and no television set. You notice that Miss Manners does not refer to this gentlemen as a friend. He doesn't have any of those, either.
There is a connection among these lacks, and a beastly unfair one it is, too. If the gentlemen had no money, some people might not hold it against him. (Others might, of course.) But that he can afford these blessings of civilization and doesn't want them is roundly resented by all.
If truth be told, there are a few of these appliancs still around his house.
It is just that he is careful to keep them in nonworking order. The telephone never rings because he has taken care to conceal its number. The television set lives in hope that he will remember once, every four years, to turn it on and let it tell him who has been elected president of the United States. There was a car once, but it died and he has preferred to live in bereavement rather than try to meet a new one.
And if more truth need be told, Miss Manners is as bewildered as he about why his friends, other than she herself, departed with the dry goods.
She has noticed, however, that people who do not watch television are considered a threat to society. Perhaps it is because there was a wave of fashion, in the early days of television owning, to brag of not having a set, as if that were an intellectual achievement, like getting an advanced degree, only cheaper and less time consuming. People who confess now to not watching television are haughtily informed that there is "good" in "educational" television, as if it were the basest ingratitude not to watch that. It seems to Miss Manners that we have come to a peculiar pass when any pastime is considered so irresistable that people who don't want to participate need substantial excuses.
The lack of a readily available telephone line is considered even more of an affront. If the gentleman had taken a telephone-less cottage in Maine to escape from his friends and write a great novel, they all would have been sympathetic. But that he should simply want to live in his own house without a bell to summon him from his dinner, thoughts or slumber is apparently unthinkable.
Miss Manners thinks it was lovely of dear Mr. Bell to take all that trouble to invent the telephone for people who want to be in instant communication with the world, but wonders why everyone should have to agree to be so available. After all, dear Mr. Pony Express took trouble too, to invent the mails, and they are still open to all. Miss Manners friend would be perfectly happy to go to the trouble of opening his front door every morning and rummaging in his mail box for news or invitations from his friends.
But even if he got any, he would lose the friends because he does not keep an automobile. Living in the center of a city, he uses its public transportation for most of his needs, and even rents an automobile when he wishes to travel. But if he does neither and is invited to a dinner, say far out in the suburbs, he is treated by automobile owners who do not want to share with all the warmth with which people regard public charges. Because most people believe that everyone has a duty to own a car, they are not gracious about offering rides to those who, choosing not to, do not seem to be holding up their end.
The poor gentleman, Miss Manners remembers when the basic equipment one needed to have friends was charm. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: Early this spring, we sat on the front veranda with a couple of dinner guests. It became cool, and I lent a new white sweater to the better half. I think she inadvertently wore the sweater home. She has an almost identical sweater. How can I ask her to check her closet without seeming to accuse?
A. There are two matters here on which Miss Manners is not quite clear.
1) Did she have "an almost identical sweater" before you lent her yours, or is that what she has now? 2) What is it you are trying to avoid "seeming to accuse" her of doing?
Miss Manners is puzzled because she suspects you of stating the problem in social euphemisms. Miss Manners adores euphemisms and if you want to practice them on her before using them on your friend, that is fine. But Miss Manners needs to know -- and you can be quite frank with Miss Manners, who never breathes a word of anything to anyone -- whether your question actually is: I lent a friend my sweater and she stole it from me and wears is now as if it were hers.
You see, if you really believed that she had inadvertently kept it, all you would have to do is to say, "Do you still have that sweater I lent you? I could use it if you don't need it," and she would return it. There's no rudeness involved in "seeming to accuse" someone of having been forgetful.
Do that anyway, even if you think it wasn't inadvertant, because that would accomplish the same purpose, while saving face for her. That is what euphemisms are for. Miss Manners has taken full circle. She hopes you enjoyed the ride.
Q. If you had to give a single piece of advice to a couple who want to break into society, what would it be?
A. "Don't bother."
Q. M wife and I are sad to have you puzzled by a problem to which we were given solutions some time ago. One of our acquaintances introduces her "live-in friend," another her "travel friend." Why not have a contest?
A. Why not, indeed? Here are some entries that came in the same mail as yours did, for the great social problem of our time: What to call the person to whom you are all but married?
There is a word that is not condescending, cute or confusing. Its accuracy cannot be successfully challenged: The word is: fiancee (or fiance for the male).
"Unmarried couples living together often end up getting married. That confers a retroactive truthfulness on the word they have been using. They may eventually decide to go their separate ways. That incidentally, is much cheaper and less messy than getting a divorce. The third possibility is that the two will continue indefinitely living in what used to be called sin. In that case, their friends will get used to the arrangement and explanations will be unnecessary."
"Some years ago, my wife and I employed a young Danish woman (whose English, although learned in Denmark, was very good) as a live-in maid. She was an open, confiding person, and would from time to time tell us about one or another young man, whom she would refer to as 'comrade.' Originally, we assumed she meant a school-chum or boy friend, but eventually it came out that the word was reserved strictly to denote youths she had 'slept with' (our term, not hers). Apparently this was a common usage in Denmark, understood by everyone, except perhaps some parents.
"Whatever its meaning, I liked the word immediately because it had a nice friendly sound to it, and conveyed the idea of a good, close relationship, whether or not sex was involved. It wasn't until later that the word's marvelous appropriateness as a reference to a bed-partner was revealed to me, when I came across it in the dictionary. Etymologically, the restrictive usage is impeccable. The word comes from the Latin "camera," a chamber, and was adopted at least into Spanish and French, eventually to have the meaning "chamber fellow." It now has various related definitions, but the perfect one, for application to the unmarried couple living together, is 'One who shares fortunes with another, as in a dangerous adventure.'
"Perhaps the adoption of this word to describe the partners of the non-marriage relationship would in time also come to sound a bit cutesy, but presently it seems better than anything else I've heard. Covivant? Ugh!"
"The Census Bureau, with its usual imagination, has resolved all the difficulties. In the form we all received is a space for "Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters." The acronym POSSLQ has just the right flair and just the right connotation. I have often introduced my own 'roommate' as 'Adrienne, my Possiq' without receiving either a condescending stare or a quizzical look. I hope the word is included in the next dictionary as a public service to all who earlier shared my own predicament."
"Why not call them what they are -- fornicators, shortened to Forni? 'May I introduce Forni Jane Doe and Forni John Zilch?' would be no more awkward than the word Mister or Mrs., Doctor, etc. It would even eliminate the sex discrimination problem. If they are so flagrant in actions, why not call them by their correct title?"
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 interested 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 equipment you describe 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.