MACHINES DO not have feelings. There is no use trying to tell Miss Manners how bad your answering machine feels when someone hangs up on it, or to engage her in a discussion of whether the automatic elevator is hurt if you keep pushing its button when it hears you the first time and is rushing up and down as fast as it can.
This is not to say that no inanimate objects have feelings -- toys are loaded with feelings, for instance, and only a monster would break the heart of a rag doll -- nor that property should not be treated with care. But if you are faithfully courteous to your fellow human beings, Miss Manner does not mind if you tell off your toaster or your computer terminal.
What she does mind is the way people crawl inside of machines and then start behaving rudely to others. You may kick your automobile, if it deserves it, but you may not park your own manners outside, when you get into it.
Miss Manners is amazed at the number of otherwise gentle souls who turn nasty when they are driving. And they all suffer from the wonderful, ostrich-like delusion that they cannot be identified because they are sefely inside their cars.
It seems silly to her to have to say what good driving manners are. They are the same as the simplest, most obvious of non-driving manners, except that each person is surrounded by thousands of dollars of treacherous metal.
You do not shove your way in front of others, and so you do not break into parking lot lines or force your way into crowded lanes. You do not occupy two seats in a bus, and you do not allow your car to occupy more than the marked-off space of one parking place.
You do not leave your things about in ways that block the progress of other people, and so you do not double-park or cut off people's driveways. You do not shoplift even if no one is looking, and so you do not break traffic laws, even if no one is looking.
You do not breathe down the necks of people who don't walk as fast as you do, and so you do not tailgate slow cars. You do not yell at people, except in emergencies, and so you do not honk at people, except in emergencies. You don't scream insults at passing strangers -- so you don't scream insults at passing strangers.
Why isn't all this obvious? Why does Miss Manners have to waste her time on such obvious decencies, instead of spending it on important matters, such as what to call the person your grown-up child lives with or how to keep the clam sauce on the spaghetti on the fork?
Probably it is because all the foolish anthropomorphizing that is done has led people to envy the capricious, aggressive, irresponsible lives led by machines, and tempted them to disguise themselves as machines and do likewise.
This Miss Manners cannot allow. For one thing, it sets a bad example to dishwashers and garbage disposals. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. My father-in-law died recently. He was a lovable, happy man and his death was indeed a loss to all his family and friends.
However, I felt very left out during the period of his serious illness and the making of the funeral arrangements. My husband and I, at that point, had been married 16 years. But he and his sisters became again a united family, with their spouses and their children almost excluded. Even at the funeral Mass, we sat behind them with the children, and they all went together in the limousine to the cemetery. We are all Irish-Catholics, but I know of no tradition warranting this behavior. Maybe I'm being petty, but I loved him and wanted to be included in their decisions.
A. Yes, you are being petty. Grief often inspires other odd emotions, and pettiness -- the jealous assertion of one's own claims as a mourner -- is one of the commonest.
Another such auxiliary emotion is the one your husband and his sisters have, of trying to recreate the original family unit during the tragedy. You were not a part of it, no matter how much you loved your father-in-law. Even in the happiest of in-law relationships, the pretense that a parent-child bond acquired through marriage is the same as the blood bond is obviously phony. Miss Manners has never met anyone yet who didn't feel awkward about addressing in-laws by the same parental title as parents.
Of course it would have been flattering if your husband had turned to you at this time, rather than to his sisters. But he didn't. Do you really think this is the time to hold a loyalty competition?
Q. I am writing you because I'm involved in a sort of disagreement -- well, not really me but between some people I really care about. I hope you can answer this question. It would save a lot of anger and frustration being let out.
I am a sister of the groom-to-be; my best girlfriend, whom I introduced him to, is the bride. The bride's parents are not very well off. They live comfortably, but can't afford the big wedding their daughter wants to have. She wants my parents to go in half to pay for it, but my parents don't want to, because six different people fighting over the way the wedding is going to be run would really be a hassle. My mom and dad said they can use some of the wedding gifts to pay for the wedding, but my brother doesn't want to. My friend, the bride, thinks it is old-fashioned to be this way.
My mom and dad said the bride's parents should have a wedding they can afford. They suggested cutting the list by a third, to reduce the cost.
Are they old-fashioned, and is my friend right?
A. Certainly, the concept of living witnin one's means is an old-fashioned one. Miss Manners hopes you do not imagine that she considers the term old-fashioned to be pejorative.
In this case it appears that your friend has little choice. The expenses of the wedding are properly borne by the bride's family, and they are unable to pay the sum she is demanding. She has also failed in her attempts to extract payment from your parents, and even to get the consent of her future husband to take over their mutual funds, actual or anticipated, for the purpose.
Unless she can find a sponsor or obtain a bank loan, she will have to have a wedding in the standard of living to which she has been accustomed.
And it seems to Miss Manners that a marriage in which the feelings of the future parents-in-law and the judgment of the bridegroom have been sacrificed to a luxurious fantasy would be a shaky investment.
Q. You views on the propriety of applauding in church would be timely. It seems to me that whatever talent one displays in church, whether it be musical or oratorical, is offered up to the glory of God, not to solicit the admiration (true or feigned) of one's fellow-sinners.
Yet it would be quite unrealistic, would it not, to expect the composers of religious song to eschew royalties? True devotion would seem to prompt the offering of an inspired song for the spiritual strengthening of us all, without reward. wtA. Yes, indeed, on both questions. Yes, it is wrong to applaud in church, and yes, it is unrealistic to expect composers to eschew royalties.
Q. I read recently that appropriate percentages for tipping are now running between 15 and 20 percent. In the old days, 10 percent was considered sufficient. Would you please tell me what is the rationale for this increase? It seems to me that if the basic price for a meal in a restaurant increases, as it has, then 10 percent of the higher price still provides the waiter with the larger tip which is due him. But why 15 to 20 percent?
A. Ah, but the amount of service has not remained the same. There are so many things that a modern waiter must do, such as announcing "Help yourself from the salad bar." or arguing against giving out separate checks, that a waiter of the old days never would have dreamed of doing.