IF MISS Manners were to ask you to stop talking about money all the time, how much would it cost her?
Things have gotten really unbearable since the old rule about never discussing money, sex, religion or politics was relaxed. And the worst abuse is conversation about money. Miss Manners would welcome a fine old religious fight, if you would only stop telling her how much you paid for your house, how much the other houses in the neighborhood are going for now, how much your silver is worth, how much it's costing you to insure it, how much it would cost you to replace it, and whether she knows what they are charging these days for it.
It's not just here -- its's everywhere. A young Englishman of Miss Manners' acquaintance, who spends his life roaming the odd corners of the earth, shocked her by saying that he goes to great lengths, wherever he is, to avoid talking to the local population. After realizing how impressed she was with such a declaration, in this age of self-declared "people persons," Miss Manners asked him why.
"Because it's always the same conversation," he replied. "Somebody sidles up to me and says, 'You're English?' And I say 'Yes,' and they he says 'Do you like it here?' and I say 'Oh, yes,' and then he gets to the real point. Then he pulls out his pack of cigarettes and says, 'How much do you pay for this in England?'"
(Actually, to tell the whole story, this young gentleman does report one more topic of international male conversation. He doesn't mind it so much when asked about a leer, "What are your women like in England?" but he says he doesn't care for the punch in the nose he gets when he replies, "What are your women like?")
Miss Manners sympathizes with the motivation to discuss prices in these rapidly changing times. There are two real statements being made through all these statistics, and both of them are among the most satisfying communications one human being can make to another. They are:
1. My, I was clever.
2. My, things have changed for the worse since I was younger.
The first covers all statements about things the speaker has purchased which are now more expensive; the second, all things he didn't buy when the prices were lower than they are now.
Therefore, no one is excluded from such conversations; they are, indeed, tempting. Would you like Miss Manners to tell you what her dear mother paid for the handmade silver tea service she gave her, which Mamma had bought in Mexico in 1948?
No, you really wouldn't. Let us go back to considering discussions of money vulgar, to protect ourselves from the worse attribute, which is that they are boring.
And Miss Manners will tell you, instead, how erratic the weather has become since she was a girl. (My, things have changed for the worse), and how she is nevertheless able to avoid ever catching cold (My, she is clever). MISS MANNERS REPONDS
Q. My 20-year-old niece lives out of state and is doing the usual 20-year-old things, college and all that. Last week, I got a casual letter from her mother, and, just as a mention, saying the niece is giving birth soon and "Harvey" and niece are very happy.
I seem to have missed out on some in-between events, except I now understand that Harvey is a 40-year-old divorced father of some others.
Niece and Harvey's marital status is left hanging but later news told me that they had a boy, and used Harvey's middle name and last name in the baby's name.
My problem -- I want to send a gift. Just looking at baby clothes is a lot of fun. But how to address the package? I feel funny calling my niece Mrs. Harvey Whatever. Miss sounds dumb for a new mother. And Ms. doesn't fit the bill either. HELP!
A. Indeed, "Ms.," does exactly fit the bill, in Miss Manners' opinion, as it was designed to skip over the question of whether a woman is married, which is apparently what you mean when describing your niece's behavior as "the usual 20-year-old things . . . and all that."
However, if you don't like it, Miss Manners will not attempt to force it on you. Instead, she will give you special dispensation to address the present to the baby himself, since you have been supplied with his name. Ordinarily, Miss Manners finds this rather too cute, but something tells her that your niece is not a stickler for formalities.
Q. Is it permissable to eat watercress or parsley that is used as decoration? Does one do so with the fork, or the fingers?
A. Miss Manners does not quite know how watercress and parsley, which are delicious, lost their full citizenship rights as vegetables and were put on a pedestal, or platter, to be treated as mere decoration. They would be far happier to be restored to their rights, and eaten with the fork at dinner or the fingers from finger-food platters, than to continue to lead vain empty lives.
Q. I am a 20-year-old girl. Ever since I was 16, I've dated different kinds of guys. None of them ever had the same interests as I. I'm a tomboy, or you could say a cowgirl. Three weeks ago, I met a guy at my job that I was interested in. He wore western clothes, like me. At first he liked me as a friend; then later, he said he liked me as more than a friend. hWe never kissed, but finally he started holding my hand. Last night, I called him because I was going to ask him over for supper. But his mother told me she hated me and kept hanging up on me. Later he called and said we should forget about each other because of her.
I'm afraid I will never see him again or meet a guy like him again! I waited most of my life for a guy like that. How can I have patience or find a guy like that again?
A. A guy like what? As you describe your history with this gentleman, Miss Manners would not suppose it is something you want to repeat.
Admittedly, wearing western clothes is a bond, although since you have not met his mother, it is possible that her clothes are more western than yours. At any rate, this more-than-friendship relationship, as you know, is over.
Your really urgent question is how can you have patience. You know, deep down, and Miss Manners knows, that some patience is all you need, not resignation to a lifetime of loneliness. The answer is that you have no alternative to patience. As you learned from your repeated telephone calls, impatience does not always work.
Q. I have been dating a man for over a year, and we have discussed getting married, and we want to get married. The problem is that he has been married before, which does not bother me, and that is ex-wife has the family ring that his grandmother had given him.
Is it proper for the ex-wife to keep the ring or should she return it, since it is a family heirloom? I have talked to my boyfriend about this when we discussed getting engaged. He says he gave it to her and seems scared to ask for it back. He told me that he would gladly give her the money that it would be worth, but he has not spoken to her on this issue.
I feel somewhat resentful here. Although I realize that a divorce is painful and hard for both parties involved, I don't know why she should keep the ring when it would mean so much to me to have it and have a part of his family's history.
Miss Manners, what is the proper procedure here, as by all means I want to do what is right and correct for a young lady who wants to get engaged. I plan to stay with this man for the rest of my life, not just a few years like his first wife.
A. Miss Manners could recommend to you that you consult a lawyer, who will explain that your husband has no legal right to this ring, but it would be cheaper and more interesting for you to read "The Eustace Diamonds" by dear Anthony Trollope, for an understanding of the complications involved in the term "heirloom," which you use so freely.
That, however, is merely the legal "thing." The proper "thing," which you say you want to do, is for a young lady who wants to get engaged to avoid making it clear to the gentleman that of all the intimacies he has enjoyed with another before he met her, the only one that bothers her is the one involving jewelry.