NO PARENT worthy of the name will tolerate a tantrum or an outburst. Swift punishment or the technique of treating the offender as a non-person for the duration of the fit are the standard ways of dealing with this behavior, which fortifies the steadfast parent in maintaining whatever dictum brought it on.
How, then, is a poor child to register his or her strong disagreement, on an emotional level, and in such a way as to drive the parent bananas without provoking stricter injunctions?
By sulking, of course.
Properly done, a sulk is wildly irritating to the parent, but leaves him or her totally unable to pin a punishable offense on the sulker. It is therefore the ideal revenge of a theoretically powerless person on a supposedly powerful one.
Miss Manners is fortunate enough to number among her acquaintances an experienced juvenile sulker who was willing to explain the technique for the benefit of any younger sulkers who may be coming along. She has noticed that it bears a resemblance to an adult weapon, known as "acting huffy," useful for registering disapproval without open conflict, but readily admits the superiority of the classic sulk.
The apprentice sulker must be careful not to confuse sulking with the silent treatment, said the expert. There are similarities, of course, but a full refusal to speak is a detectable felony, of less magnitude than overt anger, but just as sure to lead eventually to an overt reaction.
"The reason sulking is so annoying is that it really is perfect behavior," said Miss Manners' source. "You do everything exactly as you are supposed to, but you are still sulking all the while. After all, nobody can say to you, 'Stop being perfect.' "
The sulking part consists of "being as quiet as possible, avoiding people's eyes and looking off into space if they catch yours, and keeping your mouth closed. It doesn't work so well with shy children, but in naturally bubbly children, the effect is obvious.
"When you have to talk, so that nobody can get mad at you for being silent, use as few words as possible. I don't think the mouth actually has to be pursed, as long as it is generally closed.
"The most anybody can say is, 'What's the matter?'
"The answer is, 'Nothing.' You can say it coldly, but I prefer to pretend to try to be cheerful, if you follow me. No matter how many times you are asked what is wrong, you always have to keep insisting, 'Nothing.'
"Once you agree to discuss your complaint, you are no longer sulking."
Struck with admiration at this useful social tool, Miss Manners inquired whether there were any further details she ought to know. "Yes -- don't bother wasting this on brothers and sisters," said the expert. "You can yell at them."
What, Miss Manners pursued, if the recipient of the sulk refuses to react, either from not having noticed the quiet perfection, or out of a conscious decision to ignore it?
"Sulk louder," said the expert.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. How far does hospitality go with out-of-state guests?
Twice, my sister-in-law and her family stayed with us for a weekend, and both times she insisted that I let her do her laundry at my house. I find this boldness to be unnerving, not to mention the added expense of running less than half a load of clothes in my washer and dryer. She also took the liberty (that is, without permission) of washing her car during their last visit. She maintains that we are "family," and therefore I should not deny her these favors. I feel that she is abusing my otherwise generous hospitality. Please prepare me for the next visit.
A. Do not have a next visit. A woman who calculates the expense of running her washer and dryer as being more significant than the convenience of her sister-in-law does not deserve to have family, let alone house guests.
Q. I received a wedding invitation that seemed a little odd to me. Hope you can set me straight.
It said "Mrs. So and So and the late Mr. So and So and the groom's parents name, invite you to join them upon this holy union." I was surprised that a deceased person's name would be included -- after all, this person can certainly not do any inviting.
A. It depends on where the wedding is being held. Miss Manners not only agrees with you, but would go further and say that it is cheeky to make free use of the name of someone who cannot speak for himself -- maybe he would have disapproved of the bridegroom, for instance.
However, she wishes to point out that the intention of Mrs. So and So and her daughter was obviously to summon up the spirit of the deceased on this significant family occasion, and so they are to be forgiven for the foolishness of behaving as though they could summon up his presence. Let us keep our snickers to ourselves.
Q. What does a well-brought-up young woman do to discourage uninvited, unwelcome and inappropriate advances in a social setting? Here is my situation. I am 26, single, considered quite attractive, bright and witty. I am often invited to be an "extra woman" at dinner parties given by friends, and I enjoy accepting such invitations. I assume my partner for the evening will be the "extra man," so I do my best to be a charming companion to him, as well as a good dinner guest in general by mixing and conversing with the others.
Many times, however, one of the "attached" male guests has paid me obvious and nearly exclusive attention. This attention has taken several forms, from attempting to engage me in intimate conversation to cornering me in the kitchen and imploring me to meet him in the garden later. Being possessed of a quick humor, I am usually able to parry such advances, but the contretemps gets in the way of my having a pleasant evening and, once noticed, does nothing to endear me to the gentleman's date.
A friend has pointed out to me that I, while conducting myself always as a lady, have an open and friendly manner that at times leaves my actions open to misinterpretation. I am also not so naive as to wonder what attached men find attractive about single women in general, and about me in particular.
My questions are these: Is this (to me) troublesome attention considered part of modern socializing? Or is it, at best, bad manners -- at worst, immoral? And what should be done to make clear one's disapproval and salvage the evening with good grace?
A. Modern socializing? No. Modern socializing, in Miss Manners' opinion, is a dreary business, in which fraternity party rules -- those who come in couples belong strictly to each other, and the unattached are allowed to address only one another -- are practiced by people old enough for something more complex.
In old-fashioned socializing, which Miss Manners much prefers, everyone is as charming as possible, and those who do not exert themselves are not protected by any rules of temporary ownership. Even married couples are expected to engage in banter with those other than their partners; when they want to devote their attention to each other, they can stay home, and the same goes, these days, for unmarried pairs. Grown-up dinner parties are not mass dates, nor are they mixers.
Now, as for gentlemen, attached or not, legally or otherwise, who make indecent proposals to other ladies, that, too, has been going on for some time, Miss Manners hates to tell you.
Of course, it is hard to tell what would be considered an indecent proposal in modern times. Miss Manners would define it as a proposal that is unwelcome to the lady to whom it is made. What you describe does sound like a rude suggestion at a dinner party, but who is to say that you would not be pleased to take a small turn in the garden, just to get some air, if the right gentleman suggested it in such a way as not to scandalize the others?
There are two ways of dealing with unwelcome advances. One, as you say, is to parry it; this is the proper way to handle reasonably decently intended proposals. Insulting ones are handled by the lady's repeating them quite loudly: "What? You want me to meet you at the corner bar after I leave?" That, Miss Manners promises you, will be the end of that.