SERVICE in first class public accommodations in this country is truly dreadful. Miss Manners brings you this news from the front, so to speak, not to maintain the tradition by the privileged of whining that nothing is good enough for them, but to confirm those who cannot or will not go first class in the belief that they are missing nothing.
Most of the service one endures at hotels, in restaurants or on transportation is inept--and it is hardly less so when there is corporate bragging about the personal quality of it, and impersonal prices to match. Virtually all of it, especially in first class, is intrusive.
Waiters, headwaiters and wine stewards habitually address the customers in tones loud enough to cover and interrupt the conversation that is going on at the table, in order to request or to give orders, to require their memories to be refreshed about who was having what, or to beg for reassurance with that new rhetorical commonplace: "Is everything all right?"
Well, it was until you spoiled the mood.
And that is when they are trying to be pleasant. It is more usual for restaurant people to try to be unpleasant, for the very purpose of selling their gracious cooperation in the basics of restaurant service--finding customers tables they like, anticipating their needs--for an extra bribe above the price of the meal.
If there is an overpriced hotel in this country that has a practice of waiting until the customers leave their rooms before attempting to clean up, Miss Manners has not discovered it. Sleeping late is out of the question, because one's room is simply entered without warning by a housekeeper who then growls, "Just checking."
What they are checking for, Miss Manners is not sure she wants to know. And truthfully, she was awake anyway, from receiving a recorded wake-up call she hadn't placed.
She once thought to fool the system by getting her sleeping done early, but there was another attempted break-in, this time by a person who wailed, when Miss Manners refused to get up and remove the chain from the door, "But I have to turn down your bed."
"I'm in it asleep," Miss Manners replied firmly and not entirely truthfully. The following morning, she stepped out into the hallway onto a tray of chocolates and liqueurs the person had left when she fled.
Even that is less exhausting than first class travel, when the customer is obligated to entertain the chauffeur, stewards and other service people who enliven their jobs, either on instructions or from personal inclination, by pretending they are social occasions. It is no use, Miss Manners has found, to exercise extreme tact in declining such a person's observations and philosophy just in order to listen to her own thoughts. They not only sulk then, but they seek their amusement in canned music and blast out her thoughts that way.
So take heart, if you are crowded in or jostled about in places where you know to expect only mediocre attention. Those going first class are probably having more taken out of them, and in more ways than one. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: My very dear friends gave me a lovely lighter that they brought from their recent trip to the Orient. Within a short time, it broke, and service shops say there are no repair parts available in this country.
Do I tell my friends? It might embarrass them into buying another lighter, which I really don't need or want. On the other hand, they might get repair parts on their next trip, or know to stay clear of that product or store. The lighter is not costly, but our friendship is.
A: How often do these people go to the Orient, and how many lighters do they generally bring back with them?
If they are in the business, they should certainly be warned, or perhaps the Customs Service should be if it doesn't know already.
If, however, they are merely casual travelers who selected what they hoped would be an appropriate present for you, Miss Manners does not think they should be expected to supply a service contract for it. The most you can do (Miss Manners always weakens after she has declared something improper, and supplies a proper, and, one might say, sneaky, way to do it, after all) is to say to them, "Oh, you're going back to the Orient. You gave me such a lovely lighter after your last trip--I'm just crazy about it. Do you happen to know whether one can get parts for it in this country? I seemed to have jammed something, and I haven't been able to find any repairman who knows what to do. I hate to bother you, but I love it so, and I miss using it."
Now that Miss Manners has set this down, it seems like a great deal of trouble for a lousy lighter. Can't you just forget the whole thing?
Q. Almost 12 years ago, my son, who is exceptionally talented and attractive, married a young lady whom I will call Mary, while they were both in college. At first, I was quite taken with her, and since she apparently made my son content, I was appreciative of her efforts. They both entered the same respected profession and did quite well.
After seven years of marriage, my son confessed that his happiness had been feigned for all that time, and that he was leaving Mary because he had finally found a lovely woman who filled his needs and encouraged his potential. Unfortunately, this woman was Mary's friend, and at the time, Mary was midterm in the pregnancy of their first child. Naturally, there were some inappropriate responses to this awkward situation, mostly from ill-bred busybodies. Because of the circumstances and the relationship with my son, I found it necessary to avoid Mary and my future grandchild.
Well, Miss Manners, today my granddaughter is almost 5 years old, and is a lovely little girl. My son has been remarried for over four years, and has presented me with two other heirs. However, mary has continued her areer, raised the child and remained single, and we all live within the same city. I find myself longing for my firstborn grandchild. What would etiquette prescribe in this situation? My son does not see the child but twice in any year, and even that causes embarrassment for his new family.
I would not make great demands on Mary. I, also, am a busy career woman, and therefore would only request the child for several hours on holidays and special events. Also my 65th birthday will be soon, and I wish all my grandchildren present for a special portrait.
A. Miss Manners hardly yields to anyone in her cool mastery of etiquette under stress, but she is awed by your characterizing the desertion of a pregnant wife for her firend as "an awkward situation" on which comments are "inappropriate," and of a father's avoidance of his 4-year-old as a maneuver to avoid causing "embarrassment for his new family."
She is well aware, however, that you did not ask her to make inappropriate comments, either, or appropriate ones for that matter, on you or on your son. She only mentions it all, in the course of addressing the problem you pose, because it is possible that Mary's reaction to your overtures will be colored by just such prejudices.
In theory, your desire for a relationship with your granddaughter should be considered spearately from the relationship of the child to her father as you, too, are a blood relative and ought to be able to pursue your connections independently.
You cannot, however, maintain much of a relationship with a minor child against the wishes of its mother and guardian. You can try, by writing the child or otherwise approaching her (cynical people do it through lavish presents), but your chances of success are not good without the mother's support.
Miss Manners therefore suggests that you simply voice your wish to her, putting as much pathos into your feelings as possible and probably ommitting your delight that your son "finally found a lovely woman who filled his needs and encouraged his potential." Mary may just be gracious enough to overlook the past. On the other hand, don't hold the telephone too close to your ear.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. 1983, United Feature Syndicate Inc. Miss Manners