GLARING IS one of the few social skills -- one cannot exactly call it a grace -- that has not disappeared in these troubled times.
One sees it best at concert halls and other public arenas. In a darkened hall, one person looks back over his or her shoulder and gives the Glare to a person who has made noise. The eyes widen, a beam of shocked fury goes forth and without the lips or the eyebrows of the glarer moving a zap is sent out that freezes the offender with humiliation. This is an effective weapon, much preferable, under the circumstances, to the "Shhh" that adds to the noise it purports to stop, or the withering remark that so often leads to symphonic brawls.
Do not think for a minute that Miss Manners wishes to disarm the glarers, confiscating their flashing eyeballs for the sake of saving the feelings of noisemakers. She only wants to limit its use. (Isn't that what all weapons-control people claim?)
In this case, the abuses have to do with innocent children. The second most popular use of the Glare is to direct it at parents whose children are making noise or indulging in other childhood activities in public places.
Notice that Miss Manners is defending only innocent children. There are plenty of guilty children behaving intolerably in public, and whatever eye signals strangers can transmit to inform their parents that they have not properly performed their child-rearing tasks are fine with Miss Manners.
The proper duty of a parent is to bring children to optional public events only if they are capable of following the etiquette of the event, and to assume reasonable control over children unable to grasp the protocol at mandatory public appearances.
Let us define some of these terms. A visit to a grocery store is not an optional excursion; other people's weddings are. Teaching a child the rules means allowing him to attend non-obligatory events only if he will not disturb other members of the public; assuming control of a child whom you must have with you means telling him to stop annoying others and tending to his physical needs in such a way as to put a quick end to the child's source of complaint.
To get back to glaring: With this in mind, one can see that glaring is permissible only when the parent-child team is in flagrant disregard of the proper formula.
Thus, you may glare at a parent whose child is kicking the back of your airplane seat, unchecked; you may not glare at a parent whose child is being airsick.
You may not glare at a quiet child at the opera, on the assumption that the child plans to make trouble; you may glare at one there who has been given crackly candy to keep it quiet.
You may glare at a child who is running about under the tables of an otherwise subdued restaurant; you may not glare at a fretful baby whose parents are attempting to quiet it down at a travelers' restaurant.
In other words, you may glare at a child for being improperly brought up or controlled, but you may not glare at a child for existing or for parents at failing to keep their children locked in a closet until they reach the age of discretion. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. I have racked my brain to come up with a solution to this, to no avail. I want to know how to tell someone to remove a part of their body (usually their hands) from a part of my body (usually my cheek or shoulder) without offending, being rude, being considered crude and breaking all rules of protocol.
I am often around higher-ups in government or academia when the offense occurs, and it usually happens in a social setting. I am reasonably assured that the person is just being warm and open and friendly, not lewd and lascivious. However, I do not like it.
What is the best way to 1) get the offending hand away; 2) display my dislike for the offense; and 3) prevent it from happening again, all within the rules of social etiquette?
A. If you forget objective number two, Miss Manners will tell you how to accomplish numbers one and three. Why people persist in thinking that solving a problem is not enough, without letting the offender know just how disgustingly he behaved, Miss Manners cannot imagine.
The cure is the same, whether the gesture was intended to be lewd or friendly. When the offending touch is felt, jump as if startled and frightened, and give a small but shrill scream. Then start apologizing for it: "I'm so sorry, please forgive me; I don't know why I'm so jumpy today."
Miss Manners promises you that no one will repeat a gesture that has, through your inadvertent reaction, brought the rest of the party to a standstill.
Q. I find that the finer (more expensive) the restaurant, the less the food servers talk to customers. I go most often to nearby chain-motel restaurants, whose servers seem compelled to vocalize every serve they perform: "Here's your ketchup," "Here's your order," etc., until, finally, "Have a nice evening." It's a rote and, hence, meaningless courtesy.
Since I invariably try to concentrate on reading when eating alone, something that should be obvious to the servers, this cheery hospitality tends to make me wince, or even flinch--another thing it seems they might notice.
I reached my ultimate of flinching recently, when a cheerful server delivered my dessert of ice cream and soda. She announced, in a voice no doubt cultivated for her younger ice cream patrons: "Here you are. ROOT BEER FLOAT!"
Tell me, please, what standard does good etiquette require with respect to sound with service?
A. For some time now, Miss Manners has tried in vain to convince both service people and those whom they serve that impersonality--the fiction that neither is aware of the human qualities of the other--is more in their mutual interest than the even more absurd fiction that they are just social acquaintances, one of whom happens to be doing a service and the other who happens to be receiving it.
A truly dignified person may well be employed in waiting on tables--but he or she would not dream of renting out a show of friendship into the bargain.
In Miss Manner's experience, the expense of the restaurant makes no difference: In what you call the "finer" ones, there are just extra people, such as wine stewards and headwaiters, to interrupt the thoughts or conversation of the diners.
The only solution for you, short of opening your own restaurant or school for waiters, is to refuse to follow the natural impulse one has to answer every remark. There is nothing rude about continuing to read while you are being served, and "ROOT BEER FLOAT!" is not a remark that requires a reply.
Q. First, how do you tell a friend who is sensitive and only wears cotton, that she needs to wear a slip under her skirt or dress?
Second, am I out of line if I try to tell her?
A. How close is the friendship, and how transparent is the skirt?
Miss Manners' rule for calling the accidents of others to their attention is that if it can be immediately corrected, you do; if it cannot, you don't. This is known informally as the You Have Spinach On Your Teeth law.
If you are at your friend's house, where she can put on a slip, you may, if you know her well, say, "Do you really want to look that sexy? Your skirt is a little on the revealing side." You may not, however, announce this to her in the middle of American Studies class.