YOU MUST promise not to suppose it more exciting than it will be, when Miss Manners proposes to discuss the importance of submitting to the quirks, peculiar preferences and strange tastes of those with whom you live.
It is Miss Manner's observation that the oddities to which people cling most passionately have to do with housekeeping arrangements and the use of household equipment. Individuality is not nearly so rampant after people retire for the evening, she gathers from the stupefying literature on that subject.
But it is infinite, in the course of daily living. Just about everyone seems to have at least one oddity that is completely indefensible by any standards of reason, logic or importance.
That is no reason not to take such things seriously in the people with whom one tries to live in harmony. They are, in fact, items of faith to their owners, however reluctant they may be to declare this. One violates them at one's peril.
"So what if I changed the margins on your typewriter--change them back, if you like." "It's just us--who cares if the cereal bowl has a plate under it or not?" "What's the point of hanging that up when I'm going to wear it again tomorrow?" "Only a crazy person would even notice whether the windowshades are all at the same level." "I guess I used the hammer last--it must be around somewhere." "It tastes better from the carton." "I straightened up your desk for you."
These are the matters of which divorces are made. Do not be fooled by the fact that the aggrieved parties cite differences of sex or money. They just think that sounds more respectable.
You will notice that many of these have to do with neatness, table manners, noise or property rights. Indeed, it is the ability to adjust in these areas that is the most crucial factor in determining the success of a marriage in a country where the ballot is secret.
Miss Manners will now set forth some principles for adjudicating these conflicts.
The higher value takes precedence over the lower; the less intrusive condition takes precedence over the disruptive one.
Does this mean that Miss Manners always sides with the quiet, neat, generous person with the beautiful table manners? Naturally. Does she expect the messy, the noisy, the sloppy, the cranky always to be the one to change? No, not quite.
This uncharacteristic tolerance comes of the realization that orderly people would then be expected to share--to let their less fortunate relatives make off with their scissors, get into their tool and sewing boxes, and use up their stamp supplies. That would never do.
The modified law, then, is that in household places that are shared, the higher standard is maintained, but that there will be recognized private areas in which people may indulge as they see fit, without interference or criticism. Respect, or better, blindness, should be accorded to whatever takes place within these boundaries. The chief point is that no one has to justify his taste or conduct there.
The closet, the desk, the unshared meal and the individual's hobby, sports or occupational equipment obviously are such areas. Separate bathrooms are nice; separate cars and separated bedrooms should not be snickered atMISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. I have three small children, and have had their pictures taken scores of times. As you know, these pictures aren't cheap, and I would like to hang them somewhere that they can be seen. I don't want to push them on my company, but I don't want to pack them away in a drawer, either. Where is the proper place to put these pictures that my husband and I treasure? Do I have to put them in our bedroom, or would the den be acceptable? I want to do the proper thing.
A. Miss Manners appreciates that, and will do her best to soften strict propriety, so that it will not seem heartless. Far too many people believe that feeling is the opposite of propriety, when actually its opposite is rudeness or vulgarity.
There is no question of either of those evils here. Even if you mounted your pictures in individually lighted golden frames and turned your living room into an art gallery for their display, the worst anyone would think of you is that you had an exaggerated pride from an overflow of parental affection. Among the excesses of which one can be guilty, that is not so dreadful.
Nevertheless, the custom is that photographs of family members are displayed in "private" rooms, although painted portraits of them may adorn the more public rooms. Why this minute distinction? Because of the pretense that the paintings are there for their artistic merit, while the photographs (and this is not the place to argue the artistic status of photography) are presumed to be there to display the merits of the subjects.
Miss Manners does not understand why you are not satisfied by the idea of displaying them in your bedroom. That is not at all the same thing as putting them away in a drawer; it is, in fact, the room in which the people who most treasure these pictures, you and your husband, spend the most time. If you mean by "den" an essentially family room in which you work or relax but entertain only the most intimate friends, then that would be equally appropriate.
If, however, you will not be happy unless the pictures are where others will admire them, propriety asks that you pretend either that the room is private, or that you are showing them for a decorative or artistic effect. An example of the first pretense would be to hang them in the kitchen, knowing full well that your dinner guests are in the habit of hanging around the kitchen with their drinks while you put the finishing touches on dinner. An example of the latter would be putting the pictures in the living room in a collection of odd and interesting frames, cleverly arranged on a table or wall, into a pattern of some decorative interest. If you will also blush when people exclaim "Oh, what beautiful children you have," and reply (kitchen version) "Oh, dear, I just put those pictures there because it gives me a lift to glimpse them while I'm working" or (living room version), "We got that shell frame last summer because we thought it was rather unusual," everyone, including Miss Manners, will think that you have expressed the tenderest of feelings with the utmost of propriety.
Q. Is it acceptable to deliberately disobey your mom?
A. No, it is not. You might grow up to disobey Miss Manners. However, it is conventional practice among children who cannot be taken to task for bad manners, to obey their parents, when they disagree with them, with what we may call reluctant grace. This is surprisingly effective.
Feeling incorrect? Send etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.