THERE ARE a few areas that Miss Manners would like to declare out of her jurisdiction. This is her year for rereading dear Charles Dickens, and if she has to look after everyone's behavior every minute, she will never get through. Surely you would not be so unfeeling as to wish her a lifetime of Barnaby Rudging and Tiny Timming.
But each time Miss Manners piously intones that she does not interfere in God's province, someone reports an epidemic of giggling in church; and every time she sighs with relief at having everyone bedded down for the night, the murmur of complaints begins about nocturnal noises and stolen covers.
So it is with the jurisdiction of the bathroom. In vain does Miss Manners cry that she doesn't care what people do in the bathroom -- she doesn't want to think about it -- they can do whatever they like if only they will shut the door first. To deaf ears does she moan that her dear mother did not rear her to be the instructress of people who have not mastered the proper use of the water closet.
Still she is besieged by complaints about the proper placement of the toilet seat cover, and the correct direction of unravelment of the tissue roll.
All right. Here are the basic rules of bathroom etiquette, and then Miss Manners wishes the subject and the door closed.
The only proper announcement of departure for a bathroom is "Excuse me." The question, "Where are you going?" is so rude that it should never be asked, but it unfortunately often is, the human mind being unaccountably subject to lapses of imagination.
A lady may answer, "To powder my nose;" a gentleman of Miss Manners' acquaintance replies, "Where even the Emperor must go on foot." The remarks "To comb my hair" and "To make a telephone call" are suitable for both genders.
"How long are you going to be in there?" is not a nice question. "Would it be possible for me to get in there soon?" is not a nice question, either, but it is an improvement.
Not every item in every bathroom is for the use of all who use the bathroom, even if those who share the room are related by marriage or blood. (The luxury of separate bathrooms is, in Miss Manners' opinion, a help in preventing marriages from splitting and blood from spilling.)
Shared territory must be scrupulously maintained, and agreements should be firmly made about the distribution of such possibly limited properties as hot water or space for hanging laundry. Individual matters, such as towels and shed hair, are the responsibilities of their owners.
Miss Manners has previously pointed out that guests who endeavor to save their hosts toil by refraining from using the guest towels only laden these people with worries about what on earth they did use. Guests must also realize that any private items in a host bathroom, such as pills or cosmetic devices, are invisible, which means not only that the guest doesn't see them, but that he doesn't mention them afterwards, either to their owners or to third parties.
There is a prohibition on attempts to conduct general conversation through a shut bathroom door. Miss Manners cannot think of a sociable remark that cannot wait until the door is opened voluntarily -- with the one exception of "I noticed that something's dripping through the ceiling downstairs." MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. When a person you run into that you haven't seen for some time makes some tactless, cruel remark like "Oh, is that you? You've put on so much weight! And you used to be such a pretty girl," what do you do?
This happened in the supermarket. The remark was made by an ex-neighbor woman, who is at least twice my size. I am trying to take off the excess weight I gained since I began having babies -- I consider that the weight is a problem, and I'm trying to do something about it. Yet running into people like this woman makes me want to avoid going out at all.
How does a person respond when someone insults you or embarrasses you or hurts your feelings, especially when it is in front of other people?
A. If all the sensitive people stayed home to avoid insult, the streets would be given over entirely to the rude. Come to think of it, that probably explains why city life is the way it is.
You must know that Miss Manners will never permit you to be rude in return to the tactlessness of others, and is therefore the last person to supply you with a snappy comeback. Perhaps you also remember that it is one of Miss Manners' contentions that "making others feel good" is not, as some people claim, the sole purpose of manners. There are times when etiquette is used to make others feel terrible, and this is one of them.
Here, therefore, are two snappy politenesses, but you must promise to deliver them straight, without any touch of sarcasm in your voice.
As the offender is heavier than you, you might say, "Well, I'm trying to get this weight off, but it's difficult. Perhaps you'll tell me your secret for reducing." An all-purpose rejoinder is simply a big smile and an enthusiastic, "Oh, thank you," to be repeated as often as necessary. If the person counters by explaining the disparaging intent of her remark, she will be forced to listen, herself, to how ugly it is.
Q. A young couple recently moved into the house down the street from us. Although my husband and I bought a housewarming present for them, we've been very busy lately, and haven't had a chance to take it over to them.
Unfortunately, the young husband of our new neighbor was killed in a tragic accident yesterday. Naturally, my husband and I are planning to attend the wake at our neighbor's house. Our problem, however, is whether it would be proper for us to take our as-yet-undelivered housewarming present with us.
My husband feels that as well as being courteous, it might cheer the poor widow up. I'm a little reluctant, however. I would hate to upset her at a such difficult time, but I don't want to go over there without having first sent a housewarming present.
A. There was a time when Miss Manners might have carelessly remarked that no thoughtfully chosen present, offered with the best of intentions, could be offensive to the receiver. That was before she read your letter.
Do you not think it possible that the unfortunate event of yesterday might have put a damper on your neighbor's pleasure and enthusiasm for her new house? That a present enhancing the cozy home she was planning to make there may have the effect of cheering her down, rather than up?
The new occasion takes precedence over the old. You do not even know if, under these circumstances, the widow will stay on in that house.
If you had bought her a present appropriate to a wake -- flowers, a plant, a casserole or a bottle of port -- you may still pass it off. If it is a guide to the local restaurants or a breakfast set for two, you had better put it away for another neighbor or such time as you think you can give it to this one with the explanation of your intentions without her bursting into tears.