NO, MISS Manners will not critique manners on television. She can hardly think of any occupation sillier than that of waggling her finger at shadows.
So please stop telling her about this series in which family members say rude things to one another, or that commercial in which those who are acquainted with a certain product insult to their faces those who are not.
It is not only that Miss Manners has enough trouble, as she keeps murmuring, in getting human beings to behave themselves, but that she understands the difference between them and dramatic characters. Television programs may be about all sorts, and the requirement of their behavior is not that it be mannerly, but that it be appropriate to the characters being represented. Commercials are intended to sell dry goods, not to teach deportment.
As a drama critic in another life (did you think she had no other pleasure but the hope of catching you in social error?), Miss Manners is upset by the behavior of dramatic characters only when it is plainly out of character. She does not expect television to provide role models; neither does she think that expectation should be held by those, such as parents, who ought to be doing that job themselves.
Indeed, it is when television programs do attempt to emulate refined manners that they go furthest wrong. Aristocrats are invariably represented as being snobbish to their dependents and scornful of any life but their own lavish one--as if boredom, noblesse oblige (not to mention fear of offending the help) and parsimony were unheard of among the upper classes.
The very programs that are the most meticulous about historical research in representing period costumes and settings are utterly ignorant of historical manners. You always find the Victorians eating with their gloves on, and chummily addressing one another by their first names. Dreadful.
You must understand that these pettish complaints are made in the name of dramatic veracity, not the general intolerance Miss Manners exhibits when she encounters unseemly behavior in real life. She will direct that, instead, to the people who complain about television, as if they had no neighbors or relatives to turn in when the reckoning on manners is done.
Role models for children must be parents, grandparents, teachers and other exemplary adults. (Using other children as examples is a poor idea. If there is one thing that a self-respecting child cannot endure, it is a perfect child, and rightly so. Nature did not intend children to behave perfectly until they have been thoroughly reared.)
It is part of this job to interpret the world, and if the child's world includes watching people behave badly on television, why, that must be interpreted, too. Unless, of course, the television is turned off, a simple mechanical process whose lack of popularity among parents Miss Manners cannot understand.
The traditional conversation begins when the child has gleefully discovered an example of someone doing something he or she has been enjoined from doing, and says, "If he can do it, why can't I?"
The answer is, "Because you see how dreadful it is. We would never behave that way, would we?"
The question is not intended to be thought over; it is supposed to suggest its own answer and will, if repeated often enough, eventually succeed.
For this exchange, poor examples are necessary and helpful, and Miss Manners, for one, thinks it generous of television to provide them for those who can't find any errors worth reporting in real life. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. Is it proper to inform a married man that you've just discovered that he was already legally married to you through common law? If so, do you address the letter to just him, or to Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so? Or would the proper procedure be just to file bigamy charges?
A. If Miss Manners answers the etiquette aspects of this situation, would you be so kind as to get yourself a lawyer to deal with the legal aspects? Miss Manners has quite enough to do without involving herself in tangles outside of her field of concentration.
It is not strictly necessary to inform people in a sociable way of proposed actions of which they will be informed formally by the lawyer. If you do so, however, you should bear in mind that it is polite to assume that those who could be innocent are (in other words, that the lady was unaware of your claim and should not be chastised along with the transgressor) and that it is rude to deny people the titles to which they lay claim, no matter how much knowledge you have to the contrary (so you would address her as "Mrs.").
If you follow Miss Manners' advice, you will not have these social problems, as your legal adviser will tell you not to communicate with these people directly.
Q. My daughter says the mother of the bride has to wear pink, and the groom's mother, blue. I have never heard of this before. Is it true?
A. Miss Manners has never heard of this, either, and what is more, she never wants to hear of it again.
While we are at it, let us abolish forever the idea that the bridal couple's parents are to be told what is proper to wear to a wedding by the little snippets whose wedding day it happens to be. Let them pick on their own friends, the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and leave the elder generation to exercise its own judgment.
Q. I have occasion to host parties at my home for approximately 75 people. I am only remotely acquainted with some of the guests, since most are my husband's business associates.
Since the guests arrive at different times, I cannot always be at the door with my husband to greet them. I may be in the kitchen or talking to guests.
It has happened that the entire evening goes by, and I have missed seeing and greeting one or two of the guests, even though my husband had spent some time with them. Whenever I attend a large event, I immediately seek out the host and hostess and express my thanks for the invitation, etc. I realize the pressures that are on them in the crowd. Please enlighten me as to the correct rule of etiquette in this type of situation.
A. Yes, it is correct for guests to greet their host and hostess before plunging into a party. But first things first, while we are invoking rules of etiquette. It is the obligation of the hosts to receive their guests at the door for this purpose.
If circumstances oblige you to treat your duty somewhat more loosely, perhaps you could make up for the slack by assisting your guests in identifying you. Running around a crowded room, asking strangers, in effect, "Whose house is this, anyway? Don't you happen to know the hostess by sight, either?" is a difficult task.
Yes, they should do it, but you could make it easier by approaching everyone whose entrance escaped you, introducing yourself, and identifying your part as hostess by adding, "I am so pleased to have you here."
Q. We have received a baby announcement from a favorite cousin and her husband, announcing the arrival of their first grandson.
However, the wedding of the cousin's son and his girlfriend is yet to be. We have been invited to the wedding, but will be unable to travel the long distance required for the trip.
Although my husband and I are not accustomed to the above sequence of events, we do want to send a baby gift and/or wedding gift. Please let us know which gift would be most appropriate. Incidentally, the child is already receiving a lot of gifts from both sets of grandparents, but we will follow your advice if you think a baby gift is more appropriate. They are a very young couple trying to establish their first household without a lot of money.
A. The fun has really gone out of that traditional pastime of counting the months between the wedding and the baby's birth. It is impossible to shock anyone, any more, no matter how the figures turn out, and besides, in cases such as the one you describe, you have to be able to count backwards.
The solution, however, remains the same. It is to treat the wedding and the birth as separate events, no matter how closely they turn out to be related. As you are not planning to attend the wedding, you need not send a present, although it is still, of course, proper and gracious to do so. A baby present is not strictly obligatory, either, but Miss Manners would think you would want to send one to the first grandson of a favorite cousin.
Why don't you send them a photograph album with a card saying, "With best wishes for your happiness," and let them figure out whether it is a wedding present or a baby present?