"DO YOU mind if I call you Sophie?"
Well, yes, Mrs. Spurgeon minds very much. In the first place, her given name is Sophronia, and nobody but her sainted parents and the late Mr. Spurgeon ever called her Sophie, and then only in moments of extreme tenderness. In the second place, the questioner is someone one-third her age whom she has just met, and who did not think it necessary to supply a surname of his own, if, indeed, he has one.
But how can she refuse? The young man has a friendly, interested look on his face when putting the question, and obviously expects a positive answer.At that, she is amazed he bothered to ask -- many people have just jumped in and done it.
And the young man's intentions are flattering. He wishes to show that he accepts her as an equal, in spite of the age difference, and that he wishes to be on comfortable, informal, sociable terms with her. Galling as she finds such patronizing assumptions, she reminds herself that he truly means well.
And so she mumbles an assent, and he keeps calling her "Sophie," and she tries not to shudder visibly every time he does it.
Now -- has this young man succeeded in his kind desire to make this lady feel comfortable with him?
Let us try another approach. The young man shows by flatteringly respectful attention that he is pleased to have the privilege of knowing a lady whom he keeps addressing as Mrs. Spurgeon. As the relationship progresses (we shall say that she is a corporation president who could throw a lot of business his way, or a social leader who could give him entree to people he wants to know, or a montherly soul who could serve him as a valuable adviser and a comfort, or perhaps just one terrific old sexpot), she one day turns to him, putting a gentle hand on his, and says, "Oh, please call me Sophronia."
Later, in a moment of passion of whatever kind -- it could be that the stock she advised him to buy suddenly zoomed, or it could be whatever else you imagine -- he takes the third step and says soulfully, "Oh, Sophie!," just as the dear departed Mr. Spurgeon used to do.
What has happened here is not only that our young man has succeeded, from the beginning, in making the lady feel comfortable with him and disposed toward friendship, but that he himself has had the new experience of enjoying the development of true intimacy.
Instant intimacy, which is what is assumed when people open their acquaintanceships with first names and personal confidences, precludes this development. It is very much in vogue with the young, and Miss Manners thinks they are thus depriving themselves of great pleasures, in addition to offending those who use a different system, in the very act of attempting to ingratiate themselves.
Miss Manners, too, recognizes that they mean well.(Meaning well does not count all that much in the world of etiquette, but it counts some.) She has also watched the evolution of manners long enough to understand that we may go over completely to the newer system and that surnames will drop off vestigially from lack of use.
She rather hopes not. The thrill of progressing to being on a first-name basis, whether it is with a lady or a boss who has finally admitted you to the higher ranks, or an individual who is both, will be lost.
But this has not yet happened, and the young person who wishes to be courteous to anyone who, through age, rank or preference, uses the older system, would be well advised to take a chance of erring on the side of formality.
That way one doesn't run the risk of having someone strike a true blow for her own comfort by drawing herself up to her full dignity and saying, "Oh, please call me Mrs. Spurgeon." MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. Very shortly I shall be receiving a master's degree. I have earned my degree during the past few years, working part-time, and I would like to let family and friends know that what was begun is now finished.
My problem is just how to announce the accomplishment. I feel it needs to be somewhat formal, because a few years ago my husband received a degree he earned through studies at home. His brother made a comment to the effect that congratulations via cards and gifts were not warranted because it was not the big event his graduation was. Indeed, none came from parents or siblings.
I do not wish to be treated like that. I would like a tasteful recognition for what has been at times a sacrifice for husband and children and a lot of hard work.
A. How, exactly, do you wish to be treated? Why don't you set the figure and ask Miss Manners to go out like a bill collector and get it for you?
Your education is not complete until you learn that you cannot demand a return from others for the work or sacrifices that you undertook. Your brother-in-law's attitude is merely the reverse side of the base coin you trade in by treating an important occasion in your life as a toll booth for others.
The way to let people know that you have received your degree is to write them letters telling them so. Perhaps if you pretend that you do so solely from the pleasure of sharing your satisfaction, you will inspire in others the desire to give pleasure by the tangible means that so appeal to you.
Q. Please inform me what a parent's financial obligations are for a daughter's second marriage. It is her second, his third. A large church wedding is being planned in England. (He is British.) We are being informed, but not consulted, as to plans, and are alarmed at possible costs.
A. You are obviously not the hosts at this wedding, as parents generally are for a first wedding and may be, if they choose, for subsequent ones. There is therefore no more admission charge for you than there is for any of the other guests.
Q: When I am sitting on the outside seat in a bus, and the person next to me (on the inside) wants to get out, should I stand up to let him by, or just move my legs to the side? Also, if I'm sitting in a "priority seating" seat and an old woman gets on, should I stand and relinquish my spot, or wait for a man to offer his?
A: Leg-swinging (keeping knees and ankles together) is adequate if it provides the departing passenger with enough room. Please give up your priority seat to the old woman. If you wait for a man to do it, you, too, will be an old woman by the time that comes to pass.