TO KEEP a house in which every object, down to the smallest bibelot, is in perfect taste, is in shocking taste. No house can be truly elegant unless it contains at least half a dozen atrocities of varying sizes and uses. This must not include the residents, however.
Such an apparent attack of madness on the part of Miss Good Taste herself is not to be confused with the unfortunate notion that a house should have the look of being "lived in," or, as Miss Manners terms it "slovenly." If disorder were indeed sweet, we could solve the teen-age summer unemployment problem by leasing adolescents out as decorating consultants.
It is rather in the selection of furnishings that care must be exercised to include enough dreadful items to avoid the appearance of being mercenary, heartless and socially aggressive.
The discriminating person always has on hand a few things that could not possibly have been chosen for their aesthectic value, thus emerging as a person of tradition and sentiment.
For those who find it difficult to commit taste errors, here is a small list of horrible things from which to choose. If one does not come by them naturally, it may be possible to purchase them at yard sales. Child-made Objects
No household, even one which is blessed with no children, should fail to have at least one item whose provenance is clearly Arts and Crafts Hour at school or camp. Ceramic astrays, a favorite present from children to parents they never have noticed don't smoke, are good, as are yarn potholders, because they are relatively permanent. Things made out of cardboard, straws and pipe cleaners tend to disintegrate, although not as quickly as one would like. Art work must be rotated on the standard exhibit space (the refrigerator door), because it is produced in such prodigious quantities. Presents Donated by Adults
These should be displayed and cherished in proportion to the sacredness of the bond between giver and receiver, divided by the number of miles they live apart. Thus, wedding presents from friends may be quietly returned, but a spouse's poor choice should be tolerated unless you are willing to exchange the giver at the same time. Inviolate are presents from one's servants. We are not all as fortunate as the lady whose faithful butler returned from a trip to his ancestral land of Egypt with an electrically lighted sphinx for his employer's living room, but we should all be as wise as that lady, who considered what her friends would think if she kept it, considered what the butler would think if she expelled it, and gave it a place of honor. One can always make new friends, but a good butler is not easy to find. Souvenirs
This category includes sports trophies, wedding albums, framed awards, family photographs (as long as they do not include famous people) and items pertaining to happy vacations (as long as they are not of the sort that could only have been stolen from public accommodations). No member of the family should be allowed to contribute items from more than one of these categories to the general decor, and they must all be kept in places that indicate the owner's embarrassment for having them at all. The powder room walls are an excellent place for awards, the photographs go in the master bedroom and the trophies are used as doorstops in the guest rooms.
What Miss Manners does not want to see are awards hung in the library, children's artwork professionally framed and put in the drawing room, wedding albums on coffee tables, photograhps of any member of the family shaking hands with the president hung anywhere at all, or any restaurant or hotel property, including matchbooks. The ostentatious display of bad taste is in extremely poor taste. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: I wish to ask you several questions about gifts. If a couple is invited to a wedding, and they subsequently attend, are they supposed to give a gift? If they do not attend, are they supposed to give a gift? If one is invited to a shower, is it rude neither to go nor send a gift?
My husband and I have been invited to three anniversaries since the New Year, all in one community. I attended two, but didn't take a gift. I didn't attend the last one or send a gift. I have no children, but am pestered with these things a lot. I do like to encourage friendship, but I don't want to be a sucker.
I am not young, but I attend church and Sunday school regularly. Some of these people are merely acquaintances, some better friends than others, but none visit me. None of them is a relative or close friend. Two or three are strangers: I am acquainted with the mother, not the daughter -- and only slightly at that.
I have given a number of wedding gifts in the last few years, some to brides I do not know. Recently, I have been invited to a couple of teas and met yet another bride-to-be. A few days later I received an invitation to the wedding, which I am thinking of ignoring. Please give me a definite reply to each question. I like friends, but don't like to buy them, especially at my age.
A. Miss Manners has long been trying to get friendship off the market -- where, indeed, it goes by another name.
You and your husband sound like national resources, to whom anyone can apply for payment on milestone achieved. Miss Manners can understand that it is beginning to get to you and hopes it will relieve you to know that no laws of etiquette require such generosity.
Children's birthday parties and bridal or baby showers are the only occasions to which one must bring a small present. All other presents are voluntary, the greedy expectations of brides not to the contrary.
Do not ignore invitations -- answer them. Refuse those of people whose weddings or anniversaries mean nothing to you for the excellent reason that the people are strangers. Accept those of people for whom you care; to those people, you will probably also be moved to send presents. But that is not the price of admission, and invitations should never be regarded as solicitations for presents, even if you know they were meant that way.