IT IS strange that fox hunting should have the reputation of being a snobbish sport. Perhaps that is because the title role is played in an extravagant fur coat.

Actually, however, fox hunting conforms to Miss Manner's idea of the proper composition of an aristocracy in a democratic society. That is, participation is open to all who want it, provided they have the skill and the willingness to observe strictly the rules of behavior and the dress code. It was dear Anthony Trollope who first pointed out to Miss Manners that beyond these requirements, farmer and landowner become equals in the field, and ladies and gentlemen are ranked only by their ability and $99[text omitted]$99

To participate in a hunt, one need only propose oneself to the Master of Foxhounds (the M.F.H.), or the field secretary, and pay the "capping" (guest) fee. True, you should have a horse and be able to ride it, but Miss Manners does not consider this an outrageous requirement in a society where you are often expected to have an automobile in order to get, or get to, a job.

For individual dressing and improvised behavior, fox hunting is equivalent to, say, a 19th-century Russian ballet school. This includes greeting the master, and thanking him before departure. He is known by the informal title, "Master," even if she is a woman.

Guests wear black (or very dark gray or blue) melton coats; light pants, black boots and black hunting-derby hats. The scarlet coat, called pink for its original London tailor, Mr. Pink, and not for its color, with the hunt's individual colors on the collar, is worn by members of the hunt with the permission of the M.F.H. Only then do they wear boots with tan tops and high silk hats.

Ladies who ride sidesaddle may wear dark green informally, but their formal wear is black (with the hunt colors if permitted) with top hats and veils.

If there is to be a hunt breakfast afterwards, it is considered polite not to presume on everyone's enthusiasm for horse-related smell but to bring a fresh tweed coat and a sponge to wipe from one's boots the sort of thing that tends to get on one's boots.

No one rides between the Master and the hounds; no one cuts off another rider or separates himself from the field; no one makes personal comments on another person's ability or horse unless it is to a close friend or about a spectacular and unusual feat ("Well ridden "); and no one having a jolly ride pretends not to notice that another rider is in trouble.

Juniors, who may be permitted to wear jodhpurs, black or tweed jackets and velvet hunting caps, ride to the back and usefully close gates; guests should be allowed to ride in front, where they can observe the hound work.

A person present at his first kill may be dabbed on the forehead with blood from the pad of the fox, or may be given the mask to wear under his hat. It is considered polite to look honored.

As everyone knows from the comic strips, the cry of "Tally ho!" means that one has viewed the fox. The accompanying gesture is to point toward it with one's hat, taking care not to strangle oneself with the braiding that ties the hat to the head.

Another useful expression to understand is that of the Master, when he declares it time to "draw toward the likker." Miss Manners is not sure of the meaning of that last word, but the phrase announces that the day's hunting has come to an end. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS

Q: Should you tell your mother something if it is important when she is talking to company? I am 6.

A: Yes, you should (after saying "Excuse me").

Here are some of the things that are important to tell your mother, even though she is talking to company:

"Mommy, the kitchen is full of smoke."

"Daddy's calling from Tokyo."

"Jennifer fell out of her crib and I can't put her back."

"There's a policeman at the door and he says he wants to talk to you."

"I was just reaching for my ball, and the goldfish bowl fell over."

Now, here are some things that are not important, so they can wait until your mother's company has gone home:

"Mommy, I'm tired of playing blocks. What shall I do now?"

"The ice-cream truck is coming down the street."

"Can I give Jennifer the rest of my applesauce?"

"I can't find my crayons."

Q: What suggestions can you offer to a "social klutz" who absolutely dreads going to parties and social events which involve meeting new people? I get so up-tight about saying the wrong thing that I usually do. I am fine around people who know me and I'm a fairly successful hostess, but am a terrible guest.

A: Most people develop clever opening lines for such events. If you let them deliver these statements and say only, "How interesting -- tell me about it," you will soon have a reputation as a charming person and a fascinating conversationalist.

Q: I am a 46-year-old divorced woman, attractive, fairly sophisticated and articulate with a job that is demanding, competitive and highly professional. My background is working-class Roman Catholic; my parents are still proud of my accomplishments, and, while I am comfortable with people of various social backgrounds, I confess to a prejudice in favor of those who espouse liberal (I still don't think that's a bad word) viewpoints about politics and social mobility.

The man I love and who professes to love me is also divorced. He is 43 years old, handsome, charming and thoughtful. We work in the same profession, have children the same ages, lived similar life styles with our former spouses and now generally like to be with each other in preference to any others.

His family background is middle-class WASP -- good prep school, Ivy League colleges and a small, independent income. We have been seeing each other for three years now.

Because of our professions, we both have to move soon to different geographical areas and are now thinking about marriage -- a way to be more certain that our firm would give us commuting-distance assignments. I can deal with my doubts about him fairly well. But he has confessed to a couple about me that disturb me because they are issues about which I can do nothing. He is concerned about my age and my social background.

What those concerns are have not been explicated, but I assume that since a 43-year-old man could easily acquire a very young woman with which to show off his prowess, why should he settle for a woman his own age or older? The background issue is not so clear to me, since I generally know which fork to use and I certainly won't be having his children.

My question to you, Miss Manners, is how should I regard these concerns of his? Are they, do you think, genuine issues? Of course, they are to him. I know that. But are my age and background his own peculiar hangups (which I assume he will overcome rather than lose me), or do you think we would somehow be socially unacceptable to many of the societies in which we move?

Is the fact that I am three years older than he (we look about the same age, I guess) a social gaffe? Or will it be a problem that no one heard of the city university I went to while his degrees are all super Ivy?

A: Miss Manners is trying hard to picture a social milieu, seen in these gossipy times, where malicious interest could be sustained in a married couple's three-year age difference, or in a supposed discrepancy in the cache of the schools they attended some 20 years previously.

She has not succeeded.

You may, indeed, have a manners problem if you marry, but it will concern the behavior of your husband to you and not the jeers of others, whom you somehow imagine to be scandalized by a man's choosing a woman in his age group when he could have picked someone from the next generation.

It is Miss Manners' observation that the most serious marital problems are those of etiquette: accusations that a person doesn't look right or act right in specific instances. It is the accumulation of such complaints that lead to generalizations of "You don't really love me" or "We never communicate," rather than the other way around.

This gentlemen has already declared his intention of indulging in criticism of anything he can attribute to your rightful age and family background. Miss Manners suggests you serve notice that any such comments will be out of order. If he is unable to recognize and control them, you will have to decide if you want to spend the rest of your life listening to them.