Q. I am a residential heating and air-conditioning contractor, and, as such, frequently am downstairs with the lady of the house. The question is, do I precede or follow her up the stairs when she is wearing a dress? Slacks solve the problem.

A. Which problem is that? The problem here that has engaged Miss Manners' sympathies is that of the lady who finally gets someone to come and look at her heating or air-conditioning problem, probably after weeks of telephoning and staying home for borken appointments, and he not only tells her it is going to cost twice as much as she had thought and will take several more weeks, but he also looks up her dress. Don't tell Miss Manners that you can't avoid it; in order to see up a lady's dress, you would have to have your head at the level of her ankles. Now cut it out right now. If you would mind your business, in both senses of the phrase, the world would go around a lot faster.

Q. My mother and I have a longstanding discussion of who is included in the "immediate family." I say that it only includes my parents, my grandparents and any brothers or sisters that I might have. But my mother says that it also includes my grandparents' brothers and-or sisters. Who is correct?

Secondly, my mother believes that we have to invite my great aunt to our daughter's christening. I believe that my mother believes this for two reasons: 1) Just because I have no brothers or sisters and my husband has one of each, therefore a relatives other than my parents should be invited, and 2) because Mother believes that it is proper etiquette to invite my great aunt.

One more thing -- my great aunt does live in the area; however, the only time we ever talk to her is when something is going on, so that she can get herself invited.

I should mention that my husband agrees with me that aunts and-or uncles, whether they are parents' or grandparents' brothers or sisters, are not in the immediate family, and therefore, we do not have to invite them.

A. The immediate family consists of whomever you would expect to rally you around if you were suddenly poor and underserving. One cannot have enough of such people. Do not begrudge your great aunt her glass of champagne at the christening -- your daughter may be very glad to have her in the immediate family one day.