Q: Last week I attended a wedding shower for my niece that was given by her future sister-in-law. After the gifts had been opened, the hostess presented her with a package that she said contained the "most important gift of all."
It was an ornately wrapped package. The accompanying note read "The Secret of a Happy Marriage."
When my niece opened the package, she found two items: a pair of pink underpanties with the words "Spank Spot" printed across the seat, and a wooden paddle bearing a cartoon of a woman across a man's knee being spanked and the label, "Wife Trainer."
When my niece unwrapped the package and disclosed its contents, the ladies all laughed and applauded. I was shocked and appalled and I made no attempt to conceal my displeasure. I informed the hostess that I thought her "gift" was in extremely poor taste. To my surprise, not only did she and other women in the room take me for having no sense of humor, but so did my niece.
They claimed this kind of "ceremony" -- as they called it -- is very common these days. When I left, my niece was being urged to put on the underpants and let the hostess "see if they worked."
Miss Manners, I have seldom experienced anything so upsetting. I found the gift itself degrading, the behavior of the women unspeakable and my niece's attitude inexcusable. But my niece still thinks I was rude, and even her mother feels that I over-reacted.
So, please tell me: Was I wrong to act as I did, and is this, in fact, something that happens these days at showers? I realize that customs change, but have they changed that much? Nothing like this went on 20 years ago (the last time I attended showers with any regularity).
A: If this is what showers are like remind Miss Manners to stay indoors.
However, let us separate the taste questions from the etiquette question here. If you met a woman in a vulgar dress, it would not be proper for you to tell her what you thought of it. Her vulgarity would not excuse your rudeness.
Miss Manners is certainly not going to dispute the poor taste of this incident. She doesn't even want to know whether we are talking about masochism or about dirty joking. Perhaps these women like to be beaten up; perhaps they only want to follow the previously male tradition of making obscene remarks to a person on the eve of marriage. It doesn't matter.
And the reason it doesn't matter is that it is now considered rude to criticize the sexual preferences of consenting adults. This is, indeed, a changed custom. In more enlightened eras, it was considered perfectly natural for the elder women in the family to tell a bride what they considered to be appropriate sexual behavior.
So yes, you were rude to express your condemnation of their behavior. You should merely have excused yourself from this distasteful scene, especially if the highlight of the entertainment was to be, as Miss Manners gathers, the spectacle of the hostess beating up the guest of honor.
Nevertheless, your niece is equally guilty of expressing disapproval of your behavior. The best thing would be to call it a draw, with apologies exchanged by all.