THERE ARE considerable social advantages to being hospitalized, and it is too bad that most people who have that opportunity don't feel up to enjoying it. Perhaps if Miss Manners told them all the rules of common decency that they could flout, it would give them a reason to rally.
Outpatient suffering carries no compensating liberties. Contrary to popular belief, Being Depressed does not entitle one to bore people with the causes or symptoms; and no one with a case of What's Going Around should expect anything but resentment from family and colleagues, for having exposed them to it and for making them do more of the work.
Hospitalization, however, confers the official status necessary to legitimatize errant behavior. The sick person with a healthy attitude will seize the chance.
At no other time may you protect yourself so thoroughly from people you don't want to talk to or to see. From your birthday parties, when your mother made you invite her friends' children you couldn't stand, right through the crowds of friends of spouses, spouses of friends, useful people and pitiful people, every other occasion has its share of people who can't be avoided. But not hospital life. You merely send work that you don't feel up to seeing anyone you don't want to see, or you get your doctor to do it. If they barge in anyway, you sink back on your pillows and firmly close your eyes. If you tried that in your living room, you could be called rude, but not in your hospital room.
You may have heard that it is considered bad manners to discuss your operation, or anything else to do with your physical well-being. That may be true weeks later, at a dinner party, but it does not apply to those still hospitalized. You may, if you wish, spend the entire visit answering the question. "How are you?" But you may also give a visitor a freezing look in reply, to indicate that such a probe is in bad taste.
And of course, if the visitor is reminded of her own operation or his once miraculous recovery, you can do your sinking back and closing eyes routine.
A hospital patient has no obligation to keep visitors entertained; on the contrary. When the visitors cease to be entertaining, the host may ask them to leave.
This is a time when people who ask, "What can I do?" may, within reason, be told. "The room is already crowded with flowers -- can you bring me something decent to eat instead?"
"Oh, dear, yes, there are a few books I'd like to read -- do you have a pencil?" "Well, the hospital gowns are so uncomfortable." "I wish I had something to give the nurses."
The clever patient will then ask one friend to write letters to all the others thanking them, on the patient's behalf, for all those favors. And while your friends are thus employed by you, you may sit there and eat your dinner without offering them anything.
So you see, the idea is to think of it as a resort where, with no obligations, you may behave as you choose. If the prices are bankrupting you, the staff is surly, bossy or uncommunicative, and the food is atrocious -- that should help sustain the illusion.
And when you leave, it is perfectly all right to declare, even to those who have devoted themselves to helping you, that you will never, ever enter the place again. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. The other night, my date, another couple and I went to a fairly uptown and pricey restaurant in Tampa. When we got there, we were informed that our reservations were running late -- we could spend the next 45 minutes in the bar. We didn't feel like drinking, since we were holding out for a few bottles of wine -- and ordering Perrier isn't our style, if you know what I mean.
When we were showed to our table, it was close to the kitchen door and we had a terrific view of the busboys, waiters and kitchen help. To make matters worse, our waiter must've felt he was God's personal gift to food service. Yet the conversation was pleasant, and we ignored as best we could the problems. (Somebody had to sit near the kitchen; obviously we had sinned heavily in our previous lives.)
Until, that is, my broiled grouper was presented. Tender, it wasn't; dry, overcooked, it was. When holier-than-thou returned, I requested that he send it back and ask the chef to try again.
Please understand that there was no insulting or abusive language. No raised voices, just a simple: "This isn't done properly -- it is, in fact, overdone. Please, may I have another order?"
My date later told me that the other couple was horrified, or at least embarrassed, and that such an encounter may have ruined the evening for them. Heck! I felt I should have had a few words with the manager about the wait, the lousy table, obnoxious service and charcoal-treatment of the fish. Had I done this (my alter ego urged me to reenact "Five Easy Pieces"), I'm sure my guests would have crawled under the table and died a slow death.
Query: How does Miss Manners handle such situations? How does Miss Manners toss a proper fit, complain of problems; does she ever talk to the management? And if so, when? I think many people accept shoddy service and near-inedible food because they do not know the proper etiquette of being forceful.
A. Well, let's see. There was the time that Miss Manners asked a waiter, who had brought her nothing else in an hour, for a telephone to be brought to the table. She asked for the number of the kitchen, explaining politely that she wanted to call to inquire what was the matter. Failing that, she planned to ask for the number of a good carry-out restaurant in the neighborhood.
Then there was the time that the banana daiquiri came made with salt, instead of sugar. Would your friends have expected her to drink that, in the name of civility, put a weak smile on her face and slide quietly under the table to a polite death?
That would certainly be wrong. Being polite does not mean that you have to eat -- salt. But, no, Miss Manners does not toss fits in restaurants any more than she tosses their salads. There are acceptable ways of dealing with unacceptable service.
A polite person does not jump to insult, as it were, assuming that he or she has been insulted, and answering with insult. Miss Manners always assumes that restaurants intend to serve her good food, well-prepared, in an efficient and cheerful manner. She further assumes that if they have made an accidental lapse, they would want to know about it, so that they could correct it. A good chef would not be able to live with himself, knowing that he had sent over-cooked food out of the kitchen. It would be a kindness to tell him so that he can erase this blot from his reputation and your fish.
And if the waiter does not understand what you require in the way of service, it would be a kindness to enable the manager to explain it to him.