THERE SEEMS to be a great many incompetent people in the world named Hi. Miss Manners has observed that a person who announces brightly, "Hi I'm Ron" Or "Hi I'm Cindy" is about to make a perfect nuisance of him or herself, and will furthermore prove utterly inept in whatever station God has seen fit to place him.
Hi the Waiter forgets the vegetables, can't remember who got the chicken and appears at the most thrilling moment of the tete-a-tete to ask, "Is everything all right?" Hi the Airline Clerk tells you that the plane is now being serviced for your convenience, but can't tell you how many more hours it will be before it will leave or whether there is another way to make your connection.
If Miss Manners ever complained that the world was an impersonal place where no one cared if you lived or died, she takes it back. It is now a personal world where no one cares if you live or die.
False friendship and instant intimacy seem to go with a complete lack of concern for the person to whom they are directed. The idea seems to be that spreading a pseudo-social air will make it seem rude to complain that the job isn't being well done.
Miss Manners realizes that innocent people are caught in this, being made to Hi themselves, as waitresses may also be required, for example, to wear suggestive uniforms. Sometimes people force a fabricated conviviality on those who are not in a position to reject it -- asking the doorman to address them by their first names, inquiring the cleaning woman's political views -- because they are uncomfortable with the master-servant relationship, failing to understand its mutual dignity.
Such "informality" is not universally appreciated. Restaurant patrons may prefer to converse with the people they asked to dine with them, rather than to get to know the person who is waiting on their table. Your cleaning woman may prefer to get on with your floors and go home, rather than to suffer your company. Miss Manners loathes being addressed by her first name ("Miss") by those with whom she is not intimate.
Such social promiscuity destroys the pleasure and value of friendship. Rather than encouraging human warmth, perverting its usages for business purposes spoils them for their true and special purposes.
It also damages the business world. It robs the working person of his or her dignity. If you and I are friends, how come I have to wait on you? But if I can be on equal terms with friends of my own choosing, it doesn't matter if I perform a service for wages.
It also destroys the effectiveness of the job, and the dignity that would otherwise come of doing it well. Chumming around is, in itself, a job and rather a whorish one, taking up time and energy that might otherwise be spent in performing a necessary service well, and taking pride in doing so. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. Help! I've been pregnant for less than a month, and already I can't handle things.
The problem is who to tell when. As soon as we knew for sure, we told: my parents, my husband's mother, my two brothers and their wives, and my husband's sister and brother. I asked them all not to say anything, because I don't want my boss to know yet. I know he hasn't got the right to make me leave, but he's kind of an old-fashioned gentleman type, and will probably fuss over me and tell me to "take it easy until I won't be able to get any work done.
First my sister-in-law got mad because she says she has to tell "the family." She is one of six, including a brother whom I have occasional business dealings with and it would be back at my office in no time. I'm not related to any of these people, and I can't see why they should care, let alone why I should have to tell them.
Then my mother-in-law wanted to tell her boyfriend, and went into a whole long thing about how we always make him feel like an outsider.
On the other hand, my mother doesn't think we should tell anybody. She says ominously that "something might happen," although I'm as healthy as a whore. I don't think this is her real reason. She's still embarrassed because my young brother's wife told everyone at their wedding reception that she was pregnant.
I realize I can't please everyone, so I'll go by what you say. When is the proper time to announce a pregnancy, and why?
A. The proper time is one week before everyone would know without being told. One compelling reason is to shorten the period in which you will be offered patronizing advice. Miss Manners also likes to have a decent interval between the public announcement and the private act that occasioned it. A lady should take time to comb her hair before she announces her pregnancy.
Q. When invited to a party, I always like to know who else is invited so I can (kind of) mentally be prepared to meet them. Is it improper to ask the hostess who else will be there?
A. This would depend on whether you ask before or after you accepted the invitation. Discovering a previous engagement after you hear that the hostess is asking her high school sorority sisters whom she hasn't seen in years is decidedly bad form. But to announce heartily, "Oh, won't that be fun!" and then add offhandedly, "Whom else are you asking?" seems to Miss Manners to be within the bounds of politeness.
It is, in fact, helpful to hosts to have their guests supplied with just enough information about one another to enable them to begin conversation. Guests who have to do this for themselves sometimes offend people when they ask "What do you do?" and have it interpreted as a challenge. Hosts who do this in front of the guests have the occasionally impossible burden of being simultaneously flattering and informative.
Miss Manners was once fascinated to receive a reminder card on the back of which the hostess had listed the other guests and their occupations. Even more informative are such confidences -- one could not commit them to paper -- as "To tell you the truth, he's never done anything in his life, but I asked him because he's such a delicious gossip and knows everything about everyone."
The only problem that a prospective guest might have in taking the initiative in this is that the guest list might not yet be complete. The correct response, if the hostess doesn't seem to know yet who else will be there, is to be flattered that she took care to secure you first.
Q. If I bring a wedding present to the reception, shouldn't the bride open it while I'm there? I have had presents pushed aside, which hurt me. I choose things carefully and would like to see the pleasure on their faces.
A. Please don't bring presents to weddings or wedding receptions. Please.
For one thing, the bride and bridegroom cannot take the time from their guests to open presents. And for another, the pleasure on their faces, at, let us say, receiving their fourth crock pot, is best enjoyed in privacy.
Q. I have a friend who is in jail (never mind how he got there), and I would like to stay friends with him. The trouble is that he writes four and five-page letters nearly every week, and is always asking me when I can come visit. In the first place, I don't have the time, and in the second place, I don't want to be that good friends. Once I explained that I can't come often because I have soccer practice, and he went into a whole big thing about how lucky I am that it made me feel bad. I try to act normal with him, but it doesn't seem to work.
A. No, it doesn't, quite. Miss Manners once, in arranging such a visit asked, in her usually charming way, "When would be convenient for you?" The jailed gentelman replied graciously, "Oh, any time. I'll be here."
The answer is that jail is not a normal situation, and anyone in it has probably noticed that fact. A friend who is in prolonged trouble -- it could also be a nervous breakdown, or a prolonged divorce -- cannot expect others to curtail their lives accordingly. You need only explain that you will write and visit when you can, and then do so.