"YOU WOULDN'T want me to pretend to something I don't really feel, would you? You don't want me to have to put on an act when I'm feeling rotten, do you?"
Miss Manners is always puzzled by such questions. Her answer is, "Why, yes. Please."
She spends the better part of her life (never mind how she spends the worse part) trying to persuade people to fake such feelings as delight upon receiving useless presents, curiosity about the welfare of the terminally boring, pleasure in the success of competitors, and sincerity in the wish of prosperity for all people, even those who dress offensivley. She also expects everyone to give a rousing imitation of having loved the school concert.
What the world needs is more false cheer. And less honest crabbiness.
Miss Manners does not dispute your right to feel miserable, if that is what makes you happy. She had been known to get a bit tetchy herself on days when the air is thick with rudeness, and to have to retire with a cool compress on her fevered brow.
It is when misery starts issuing invitations for company that she objects. To have a dear friend who will occasionally listen to a recital of woes in exchange for services in kind, is a blessing. To require this regularly, or to impose it upon those who have not volunteered for such tedious duty is the sin of adding to the total of unhappiness on earth.
The proper place for a person who is out of sorts is out sight. If one does not feel up to putting on a good act, one should ring down the curtain. Or at least post the notice. Tersely polite warnings, such as "I wouldn't do that right now if I were you, dear," should be heeded. s
For many people, however, out of sorts is a geograpical location where they set up housekeeping. They may have had a genuine tragedy in their lives, or they may merely enjoy the universal conviction that no one suffers more from the unjustness of life than oneself. Whatever the cause, the air of grievance looks the same once it has settled on the face.
That is the time to put on a false face.
Please notice that Miss Manners is trying hard to refrain from pointing out that there are people who overcome adversity with courage, bravery and determination, who turn their attention resolutley away from their own dissatifications and toward bettering tha lot of others. She has been told that this example is of no use to those who cannot manage that exemplary feat, so she is not demanding true cheerfulness.
Naturally, the more skillful the performance of false cheere, the more pleasing the effect is upon one's public, and that private audience to whom one owes even more. It is also true that the semblance of happiness eventually, by some alchemy of the spirits, turns genius.
But even the crudest effort is better than tossing one's problems to others like an unexpected volley ball aimed at the stomach.
The answer to "How are you?" is neither "Uhh," nor "How should I be?" It is not the answer that a gentleman of Miss Manners' acquaintance received when he posed the polite question to an elderly guest at his wedding, and was told, "Oh, not so good since Bill died." (Bill had died eight years previously.)
The answer to "How are you?" is always a hearty "Very well, thank you; how are you?" A truly disciplined person would never reply anything else, even in a hospital emergency room at midnight. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. I am cohabitating with a young man endowed with wit, charm, intelligence, character and, unfortunatley, a parrot. He allows the parrot free roam of the house, and neglects to clean up the inevitable results of the bird's lunch. I'm too squeamish to do so myself, and besides, as I have reminded my friend, I do not think it is my responsibility. So far, the bird has put three rooms out of commission. While our house is large, it is not infinitely so and I'm getting worried. Furthermore its cage is the aromatic nadir of the Midwest. Emotional pleas have not worked.
A. Miss Manner's first suggestion is that you and your witty, charming, intelligent character not have children. There is not enough fresh air in the Midwest to accommodate the further results of your squeahmishness combined with his laizzez faire policy.
It seems to Miss Manners that the longer this stalemate lasts, the worse life will get for everyone. She has also noticed, if you have not, that the ploy of letting him stew in his juices, so to speak, is not working. The sensible thing to do, when a couple has a task that neither of them is willing to do, is to hire someone to do it for them. But, then, it either one of you had any sense, would you be turning over your house, room by room, to parrot droppings?
Q. When vegetables are served in separate, small dishes in a restaurant, what is the proper way to eat them? Do you eat directly from each dish, or do you transfer half of them at a time to your dinner plate and eat them from there? This has puzzled me for some time.
A. There is nothing correct about a restaurant's putting individual vegetable dishes on the table; it is done for the convience of the kitchen. Therefore it is equally proper for you to treat them as eating dishes or as mini-platters, from which you can transfer the food to your dinner plate.