IN THEIR infinite wisdom, our forebears decided to save Miss Manners a great deal of trouble by declaring that the American way would be that of dignified but strict simplicity.
Thus there are no elaborate court rituals to be taught, nor subtle gradations in postures of humility. The only instruction Miss Manners has for Americans who bow or curtsey is "Get up" (unless they are performing artists, in which case it is, "Get up before you hear the rattle of car keys").
And she can teach you in minutes the basics of addressing all of our high public officials.
High American officials are addressed by their job titles, and the only trick is to know which titles are used alone (Governor, General, Judge) and which are preceeded by "Mr." or "Madam" (President, Vice President, Secretary, Under Secretary, Speaker, Ambassador, Mayor). The Supreme Court, inexplicably amused at the thought of a "Madam Justice," has recently dropped its "Mr."
In many cases, one needn't know an official's name to address him or her with utmost respect, a convenience under a system where glory is fleeting. Surnames are, however, used with the title of Senator, and may be with Governor or Mayor; and when there are numerous holders of a title such as United States Representatives or assistant cabinet secretaries, they are addressed by surnames with social titles only. In writing to all of these people, (except President, Vice President or Chief or Associate Justice), it is safe to use three lines: The Honorable-Full Name-Job Title.
There are no consort titles in America -- no, not even "First Lady," a term lacking in official recognition, in addition to sounding about as silly as you can get. The only difference between addressing officials' wives and private female citizens is that they use only a surname, not the husband's given name, with the title of "Mrs." Officials' husbands, never having used their wives' given names, retain their own.
See how easy it all is? Now let's take a turn around the room and say hello to everyone: "Good evening, Mr. President; hello, Mr. Vice President, everything all right?; why, Mr. Justice -- whoops, I mean Justice Fairminded?; Madam Secretary, how nice to see you; Mr. Speaker, nothing new I hope?; Madam Ambassador, everything all right?; Senator Pure, I've been hearing interesting things about you lately; Governor, you're looking great; Mr. Mayor, everything all right?"
Over there? Why that's Mr. Smith, Mrs. Jones and Mr. Brown. He's an assistant cabinet secretary, she's a member of Congress and he's a spouse.
What's that? You want to know how to introduce all these people to one another and in what order?
Oh, don't worry about that. It's easy: They already know one another. And those who don't are faking it. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. My husband is a fanatic about table manners. Every evening he comes up with a new rule. This is very nerve-racking to myself and my daughter.
Will you please give me a list of the absolute no-no's? I have tried to convince him that some of the strict rules have been relaxed.
Our daughter is 8 years old, and our son is 5. They are expected to eat perfectly or the dinner becomes a fiacso. I say that nagging and disrupting what should be an enjoyable family time is bad manners. What do you say?
A. Is the choice between family harmony and teaching the children table manners? If so, Miss Manners would like to be excused from your table.
There are two social purposes to family dinner: the regular exchange of news and ideas, and the opportunity to teach small children not to eat like pigs. These are by no means mutually exclusive. A parent merely has to maintain a patient and cheerful tone: "Christopher, dear, do tell us about your class trip to the zoo. . . . Now, swallow what's in your mouth first, and then we'll listen. . . . Natasha, dear, take your fingers out of your plate. How did your social studies report go? . . . Mommy's going to tell you what she said to the traffic policeman. Just pick it up quietly, Christopher, and say 'Excuse me' and take it in the kitchen and throw it away and then come back and finish your vegetables. . . . Don't interrupt, darling. It'll be your turn to talk in a minute. Sit up, please, and put your left hand in your lap. So the policeman came up and mommy said, Wait a minute, officer. . . ."
And so on. One can become quite proficient at this amiable patter; the trick is to omit the instructive parts when attending formal dinner parties outside of the house.
It would be a mistake for Miss Manners to provide you with a list of no-no's. It may never have occurred to your children to laugh with a mouthful of soup, for instance, or to discharge unappreciated salad ingredients into the napkin.
Here, instead, are a few yes-yes's.Small children: should be expected to wait until their mother begins eating, to use their forks, knives and napkins as God meant them to be used, to refrain from mentioning their dislikes on the menu, to pretend to listen attentively when others are speaking, to ignore the toy potential of various food items, and not to leave the table without permission.
Expectations are not always fulfilled, of course. What Miss Manners really means is that children should be repeatedly reminded to do these things, in such a way as not to interfere with the opportunity for pleasant family conversation, but as to make basic table manners such a constant requirement that they become automatic before the children reach maturity.
Q. Upon answering the telephone with a pleasant "hello," I am often confronted with the rude response, "Who is this?" The telephoning party has not only ignored my salutation, he or she has imposed on my good nature. One should always retain the option of revealing one's identity to persons of one's own choosing. This is particularly true when one is engaged in telephone conversation, under which circumstances one is unable to discern the intent or character of the inquiring party. I usually just surrender my name, however. Does this only encourage the unmannered party to repart his or her offense?
A. Possible, although the joys of calling around town demanding people's names are probably limited. The answer to "Who is this?" is properly, "Whom are you calling?"