Q: There are very few traits that I can complain about in the father of my four children, but I would like your opinion as to whether one of his habits is crude, offensive and insulting.

When we sit down to dinner, all six of us together, my husband insists on wearing his hearing protectors--you know, the sound mufflers that people wear to operate power tools or to signal pilots where to park their aircraft. He is mild-mannered about it, asserting that he is not annoyed or spiteful, but that it just brings the noise level down to where he can tolerate it and enjoy the conversation. He does seem to understand everything, but we feel he is screening us out.

Is wearing sound mufflers at dinner sound etiquette? If you think so, I will stop objecting, but I can't promise not to feel offended.

A: WHAT'S THAT YOU SAY? Just a minute, 'til Baby stops banging his spoon so Miss Manners can hear what you're saying. Stephan's trying to get your attention; can you ask him to wait a minute until we finish our conversation? Who left the TV on in the other room? All right, answer the phone, but tell whoever it is that we'll have to call back after dinner.

Now--what were you saying? Oh, about that rude man over there, tuning out. Well, Miss Manners has some sympathy with him. CAN YOU HEAR THAT, SIR? Some sympathy. Not an unlimited amount.

No, he certainly may not wear sound mufflers to dinner, a patent offense to all. On the other hand, let us all help in removing the offense from his ears.

First, ban all mechanical noises at dinner time. Then attempt to teach rules about one person talking at a time, taking orderly turns, and so on. That is what child-rearing is all about, and your husband must participate, not tune out. Eventually, peace will settle on a table of cheerful but intelligible babble. Miss Manners only hopes your husband has not gone deaf by then.

Q: If headed south on the sidewalk carrying an umbrella, when you pass someone headed north with a raised umbrella, what is the proper courteous behavior?

1. Should the person walking south slightly lower his umbrella to allow the other person to pass?

2. Should the person walking north step to one side and allow the person heading south to pass?

3. Should both north and south tilt their umbrellas in opposite directions?

4. In case an accident should occur, who has the right-of-way, the person heading south or the person heading north?

Please answer as promptly as possible, as a lot of rain is predicted.

A: If there is one thing Miss Manners loves to do, it is to invent complicated rules, cite historical precedence for them and declare psychological reasons for enforcing them, thus simultaneously reaffirming her authority and driving everyone else wild trying to keep up.

However, there is no use here giving directions to northbound pedestrians and others to southbound ones, as most people are seldom aware of which direction they are headed, especially in the rain, and others may be going east or west or jaywalking.

When you are carrying an umbrella and see someone coming in the opposite direction so closely that the umbrellas are bound to collide if neither moves, both should tilt their weapons slightly away from the side on which the two will be passing. Miss Manners would have thought you would have the sense to see that, even if you didn't have the sense to come in out of the rain.

Copyright (c) 1983, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.