Q. I know that there is special license about kissing at New Year's Eve parties, but I have questions about who and how much. Are you obliged to kiss the person you brought to the party exactly at midnight? If so, can you then go around kissing anybody you want to? Can a woman refuse a kiss or make a scene about it? How long after midnight can the kissing go on?
A. Miss Manners hopes that the New Year's Eve party you are planning to attend is a masked ball in a damp Venetian palace, so that, mysteriously disguised, you can slither about kissing whomever you choose until it is time for your charter flight back home.
The ordinary New Year's Eve party does not permit quite such an exciting suspension of the rules.
The custom is to seek out, just before midnight, the person with whom you came to the party, or at least the person with whom you plan to leave it. As midnight strikes, you may kiss or not as you choose, but if you plan to do some general kissing, this is the place to start.
Oddly enough, the degree of passion one properly exhibits is in inverse proportion to that believed to be associated with the relationship. Thus, a long-married couple should kiss with tremendous enthusiasm, while a pair of crazed new lovers should barely kiss lips or cheeks. Please don't ask Miss Manners to explain why; because these are examples of good taste -- that's why.
You may then turn to people nearby, but the type of kisses you offer must be of the chaste variety many people use as greetings. Don't tell Miss Manners that she is spoiling your fun. It is perfectly possible to press a thrill of meaning into a cheek kiss, if that is what you want, and you do not run the risk of beginning a fresh year in a melee.
Miss Manners would consider 12:15 a good time to get back to the more decorous task of drinking champagne. After all, you have a whole year ahead of you.
Q. When offering toasts, when do you click glasses, and when do you smash glasses? I have heard of people throwing their glasses at the fireplace, but I'd hate to be the one to start it at a time when it turned out not to be the thing to do.
Another question: My wife doesn't drink, and is always embarrassed during toasts, not knowing what to do. She says she doesn't want to insult anyone, but if it's a choice between insulting and drinking, she'll do the insulting. Now, I do drink, but I don't know how many people at a dinner table I'm supposed to clink glasses with before I can take a sip. What if someone drinks to my health?
A. For some reason, there are a great many more legends and customs associated with drinking than with, for example, the taking of vitamins.
One story about the clinking of glasses is that the purpose is to spill each other's wine into the glass of the other, for assurance that nobody is being poisoned (or everyone is).
The glass is broken -- by snapping the stem or, more hilariously, hurling it at the fireplace -- when the toast is of such importance that the glass must never be used for a less worthy drink. Miss Manners does not advise this unless it involves your glasses and your fireplace. It is better to touch the glass of those next to you, and even better merely to raise your glass.
Your wife should raise her glass, too, even if it is empty, and then put it down without drinking. One never, ever drinks to oneself, but babies being toasted at their christenings are among the few people who know this.