WHY DONT people pay strict attention to Miss Manners instead of trying to argue with her? There is a body of etiquette beliefs, firmly held in this society, that is wrong, wrong, wrong. If you only knew how weary Miss Manners gets of repeating the same things, in a never-ending crusade to separate gentle people from this misinformation, you would use your energy to fetch her a cool drink, instead.
Here, for positively (or possibly) the last time, is a list of common errors. It's not true:
* That spaghetti properly is eaten by twirling the strands on a fork held in the one hand into the bowl of a large spoon held in the other hand; that this method, if not correct here, is at least dashingly continental. No, no, no! Here and in Italy, this is peasant or family manners (like eating chicken from the fingers) and not proper table manners under remotely formal circumstances.
* That a bride in a white dress is either a virgin or a brazen hussy trying to pass herself off as one, when everyone in town, and a lot of people on the outskirts, know better. No, no, no. The white wedding dress symbolizes a first marriage, not a first consummation later in the day's schedule, after all the guests have gone home.
* That "junior," "III" or such is legally a part of a person's name, and therefore remains the same through life. No, no, no. The eldest holder of a name has no such designation, and when he dies, Junior drops his and III becomes Junior, although he may choose not to use it if it seems suddenly juvenile at an inappropriate time of life.
* That dessert is correctly eaten with a teaspoon. No, no, no. Teaspoons are for stirring tea, and a dessert spoon in a larger oval spoon. Miss Manners blames the manufacturers of silverware, with their "basic place settings" of dinner fork, knife and teaspoon, for this one. Fork, knife and dessert spoon would be much more basic, as the large oval spoon can also pass itself off as a soup spoon.
* That the right to make decisions concerning the form of a wedding is for sale within the family, so that paying for all of it buys complete tyranny, while paying for part is like buying so many shares of voting stock. No, no, no. One may gain control of a wedding by "giving" it in the sense of the bride's parents' being the hosts, or the couple's issuing their own invitations, but the money has nothing to do with it.
* That a widow's formal name changes, with her given name substituted for his, between "Mrs." and their surname. No, no, no! It stays the same, and why do her friends keep taunting her by telling her it doesn't?
* That social invitations are not meant exclusively for the person to whom they are issued, but contain the right to bring at least one date, if not several friends. No, no, no. Invitations must always be specific, which means that a host who will allow a guest to bring someone else (and no host is obligated to) does not add "and guest" but asks his original guest who it will be and invites that person by name.
* That "high tea" is a fancy little British business, featuring witty people eating cucumber sandwiches and tiny cakes. No, no, no. That is just called tea. The "high" doesn't make it fancier; quite the opposite. High tea features potted meat and softcooked eggs, and is what you have when you don't want to bother with a real dinner.
* That greeting cards require being acknowledged. No, no, no. People require acknowledgements of their courtesies, but cards do not. Miss Manners has never liked the silly things, so much more trouble to select than it would be to write a line of congratulations or condolence, but will not permit people to use them and then complain of not receiving attention for them.
* That Miss Manners is willing to debate these matters further. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. My future mother-in-law delivered a lecture last night on the "proper" way to thank people for their wedding gifts: Totally the bride's responsibility, period.
I am not a great traditionalist... have even been described as a bit of a rebel at times... but I certainly hate to upset her social order. Yet I have no interest in, and see little sense in, my handling all the correspondence. First, all these presents are arriving from out-of-town, often from people I have never met and my fiance has known his whole life. Second, we both work full-time, and my available time for this activity is as limited (if not more so) than his. I feel the bride (or wife) in the sole role as social secretary is a bit of an anachronism for me. Any comments?
A. Miss Manners agrees with you about the issues, although she cannot identify with you politically. You see, Miss Manners is such an old-fashioned slip of a girl that she goes back beyond the tradition of the wife handling all the social life because the husband had to earn a living, all the way to when both ladies and gentlemen devoted themselves to social duties because neither of them would dream of earning a living. (If you hear of such an opening nowadays, please let Miss Manners know.)
But while she sees nothing wrong with dividing letter-writing duties, she does object to offending in-laws so early in the marriage. What will you do for entertainment later?
Here is a brilliant solution. You write to his family's friends, and have him write to yours.