THERE ARE not going to be any more revels if no one can agree on whether they are actually T being held and who is expected to attend. It is therefore time for Miss Manners to clarify the nature of different kinds of invitations, including the crucial point about which are binding and which not, and the appropriate responses.
For the concept of the comparative social contract in different cultures, Miss Manners is indebted to Mr. Edward Hall and his interesting book, "The Silent Language." Writing in 1959, he noted, for example, that in American social life, "a girl feels insulted when she is asked for a date at the last minute by someone whom she doesn't know very well, and the person who extends an invitation to a dinner party with only three or four days' notice has to apologize.
"How different from the people of the Middle East with whom it is pointless to make an appointment too far in advance, because the informal structure of their time system places everything beyond a week into a single category of 'future,' in which plans tend to 'slip off their minds.' "
In view of the fact that quite a few American girls -- whom Miss Manners is too discreet to name -- now accept last-minute dates from people they don't know at all, perhaps it is time to state the system in current use in America:
An invitation issued and accepted by people attending a cocktail party is only binding if 1) it is to take place within the next hour, or 2) both parties take out their pocket engagement books and write it down.
Invitations to small dinner parties, issued up to three weeks in advance, are strictly binding according to the terms stated. That means that one arrives in the social unit in which one was invited (divorces or romances occurring in the interval between invitation and event are not excuses for substitutions), with no reneging permitted (death, preferably one's own, being the exception).
Invitations to stay in other people's houses for general social purposes are only enforceable when the hosts mention the date and preferred time of arrival. If the house to be visited is in a choice resort area or a foreign country, the invitation must be in writing. "Drop in on us if you're ever in Switzerland and want to ski," is not, for example, a serious invitation. To make it so, one must apply in writing: "We're going to be in Switzerland next spring and would love to see you," and hope to elicit the necessary written specifics.
Invitations to large parties still require responses, but no one except the hosts believe this. Even some of them have given up and put sad little pleas, such as "regrets only," on the cards. Miss Manners knows of several otherwise intelligent people who, faced with an invitation requiring an answer but no telephone number, couldn't figure out how to respond. (Hint: The hosts had supplied their address, which was where the party was taking place.) Also, the many people who believe that they can accept such an invitation, not go, and leave their hosts believing that they had attended, are mistaken.
Invitations to weddings are serious if they are issued on paper from two months to three weeks before the wedding, or orally within two weeks before the wedding. Those issued before the marriage proposal ("If Bertrand and I finally get hitched, I want you to be a bridesmaid") are not. All responses must be made in kind immediately. It is less important to the bridal family whether or not you grace the occasion than it is for them to be able to notify the caterer of your final decision. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: Is it acceptable to wear gloves while having a cocktail at a bar? When is the proper time to remove gloves? Are there different rules for long and short gloves? I have several sizes, yet no one I know agrees on the proper usage.
A: Drinking or eating anything while wearing gloves is a hanging offense. The only reason you don't hear more about this whenever capital punishment is debated is that most people don't bother to wear gloves these days, an act which itself is only a felony.
The time to remove the gloves is therefore when one feels thirsty or hungry, or perhaps when one is about to satisfy one of these appetites. This goes for all lengths of gloves, the only possible exception being the full-length glove (above the elbow) on which some ladies, unwilling to go through the Gypsy Rose Lee routine of stripping the entire glove from the arm, compromise by removing the hand of the glove and tucking it back into the arm part. The opening of the glove at the wrist, which closes with small pearl buttons, is called a musketeer. Miss Manners bets you didn't know that. In any case, she does not quite care for this practice of freeing only the hand, but will tolerate it.
Q: Hey, how ya doin'? I really need your help! You see, I'm a student at the university, and I need to know all about the social graces. This is where you come in.
My problem is my major field of study. You see, most of the people at the university major in business. But I do not.
Situation: I'm at a serious social function (free beer, but you have to bring your own cup) and I get involved in a conversation with a girl. Almost every time, the girl will ask me what my major is. Well, I signed the Honor Code and I'm not going to lie. So I say, "I'm majoring in history." Without fail, the girl says, "Oh, that's neat. Excuse me for a minute while I go get some more beer." Yes, Miss Manners, you guessed it. The girl never comes back. I usually see her later on with a business or pre-med student.
Why do girls not like history majors? Is there something socially unacceptable about them? If so, should I just respond to that question with something like, "I'm undecided, but I'm thinking about business"? Please give me some advice that I can use, Miss Manners. If possible, I want to remain a history major, but socializing is an important part of one's college days.
Also, I don't want to paint a totally one-sided point of view. Sometimes, a girl will stay past the "I'm a history major" part. But when I ask her what she's majoring in, she's usually into something both anti-Republican and gross, like dental hygiene. Then, I'm the one who says, "That sounds really interesting, but excuse me while I go get some more beer." Is there any hope?
A: Miss Manners thinks history and dental hygiene both eminently respectable professions, but notices that what they have in common is that, unlike business and medicine, they do not provide the slightest hope of making the practitioner rich. How ya doin'? Please excuse Miss Manners while she goes to get some more mimosa tea.