IN THE etiquette business, as in the student trade, nothing is more annoying than to be perfectly prepared with a difficult answer and then not be asked the question. Miss Manners is perhaps unusually blessed in possessing a wealth of information that no one else cares to know, so she feels this deeply.
She is, however, indignant at suggestions that she has resorted to the solution of forging questions for herself to answer. Aside from the fact that this would be highly unethical, there is the matter of sanity. To sit around and answer etiquette questions all day may not be the occupation of a normal human being, but to sit around asking oneself etiquette questions, and then answering them, could only be the act of a certified madwoman.
To avoid such dangers, while still clearing the head when it gets cluttered, Miss Manners occasionally devotes a day to answering questions that no one would ever dream of asking.
Today is such a day. So here, with no pretense that anyone has shown the slightest interest in the problems, are a few questionless answers:
When invited to inspect a Guard of Honor, it is rude to inquire of any individual member of it whether the state in which his shoes are to be seen is what he considers shined.
Butlers are more discreet than cooks, according to at least one butler. But the most discreet service people in the world are gondoliers, according to an experienced gondola passenger.
If a lady has rejected a proposal of marriage, it is against all rules of etiquette for her ever to mention to anyone that it was made. It is against all rules of nature for her not to.
It is not incorrect for a head of state to write to an official he has appointed, reluctantly accepting a resignation that has not been offered. But it certainly is startling.
"To pour," used in connection with the extreme honor offered to favored guests at a tea, is an intransitive verb.
The rules of decorum for a ball apply with identical force to a masked ball. It is, however, harder to tell who violated them.
The correct materials to be used in a bathing costume are flannel and mohair.
A Chocolataire, a form of entertainment that had a brief vogue in the late Victorian period, is an afternoon party like a tea party, except that the drinks and other refreshments were all made out of chocolate. Why this fad passed out of fashion, Miss Manners cannot imagine.
A true gentleman never focuses his attentions on one lady, to the exclusion of all others, unless he is planning to make a prompt offer of marriage. Why this fad . . .
Thank you, Gentle Reader. Miss Manners feels better now, and will resume her normal duties. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. Recently, I attended a bar mitzvah of a boy whose parents are divorced. The father, who has remarried, gave a corsage to both his former and current wives on this occasion. The boy's mother politely declined to wear her corsage on account of allergies.
Later, she expressed to me her resentment that her ex-husband had also given the identical corsage to his current wife, saying that it made her feel like part of a harem. She pointed out (correctly) that she had been solely responsible for her son's religious education, and the planning of the bar mitzvah, and that the stepmother had taken no role in this.
My question is, did the boy's father behave correctly? Is there any way he could have made this apparently well-meaning gesture without wounding everyone's feelings?
A. Probably not. People adore taking umbrage at well-meaning gestures these days. Why, Miss Manners cannot fathom. It is not as though the world were so crowded with people in a kinetic state of making well-meaning gestures, so that we had better discourage some of them and restore the balance of rudeness in the world.
Corsages seem to be particular harbingers of insult, but who is to say that we would not be troublemakers also, if we were tied together at the ankles and hung upside down?
If they don't clash with ladies' dresses, corsages spoil the neckline, and if four grandmothers and three mothers are given them for a ceremonial occasion, not only do they complain about the aesthetics, but a great-aunt sulks at having been omitted.
This poor man, in a futile attempt to avoid conflict, figured (correctly) that if he gave different corsages, each lady would consider that the other's was "better" than hers. Developing allergies begins to seem like the only peaceful solution.
Q. I'd like to hear your comments on something that recently happened to me. I became attracted to a woman working at an art supply store where I shopped. I continued patronizing the store, and made a point of saying hello to her. One day, once I thought she'd remember who I was, I asked her, in what I intended to be a straightforward, friendly manner, if she would be interested in meeting some time for a cup of coffee.
She said, no, she was already married, which was OK in itself, but she was very hostile about it. I don't appreciate having my head bitten off, I don't think I came on like a thug, and, to put it bluntly, I don't think she had any right to take offense. All she had to do was to say no. Or am I overlooking something?
A. You are overlooking the state of etiquette today which is, to put it briefly, in flux. Nowhere does this make things more complicated than in the area of what we shall call romance. For that matter, nothing is ever as complicated anywhere as it is in the area of romance.
The old rule is that ladies and gentlemen must be properly introduced before they can begin any sort of courtship. This rule is still sacred to a great many people, most of whom are long since happily mated to people whom they met through proper introductions. The object of your admiration may well be one of these people.
But it is also believed deep down by others who do not, in fact, follow it. That is why people who go to singles bars to meet single people will always tell you that they hate singles bars because they are so full of people who are crudely anxious to meet single people.
We have therefore developed, in this society, a quaint ritual by which unintroduced ladies and gentlemen pretend, when they pair up, that doing so is contrary to all the rules and practices of their lives. The charade is that one was so overwhelmed by the particular attributes of one person, that one has cast aside all sense and caution for the passion of a lifetime. Some people get quite practiced at doing this.
If the lady you chose had been receptive to your advances, she may well have taken your simple invitation to represent this uncontrollable and unique behavior. If you had actually made some effort to express this theme, she might, even while rejecting it, have tempered her reply with indulgence to you for your exquisite, though reckless, choice.
But since she is not interested in meeting anyone, and you expressed only a plain desire to have one date with her, she is perfectly free to be highly indignant that you dared to presume that a respectable lady doing honest work might be receptive to the advances of strangers.
Q. I have made a white eyelet skirt that I plan to wear with some colored clothing to a wedding this summer. My sister told me that you can't wear a white outfit to a wedding. I told her that I had other colors to wear with it. Is it proper to wear this outfit or not? I have asked other people, and they never heard of not being able to wear white.
A. The rule is that one does not wear white or black to a wedding, but the idea is that a guest should not appear to be 1) the bride, or 2) in mourning. It does not mean that these colors are totally banned to the extent that you will be checked at the door if you happen to be wearing white underwear.