HAVE YOU ever thought of saying absolutely the conventional thing? Has it never suddently struck you how appropriate it would be for you to say on occasion, exactly what you are expected to say?
The sins of originality, as applied to society's standard events, have frequently been brought to Miss Manners' attention by the victims of them. Those who give great thought to what they say, on the occasions of other people's giving birth or getting married or being bereaved, frequently inflict terrible social damage.
You can hardly go wrong, however, with the conventional social formulas--unless you get them mixed up and go around saying how sorry you are at weddings and how delighted at funerals. After all, the most important of life's events are exactly the ones that keep happening in more or less the same way, generation after generation, and it seems vain to suppose one can make original comments upon them. Miss Manners MANNERS, From K1
There are even occasions that clearly require no comment whatsoever--rather a strain in this society, which prides itself on never allowing the obvious to pass without remark.
Here, for those who have forgotten their use, is a glossary of utterly conventional statements for utterly conventional occasions.
The announcement of a pregnancy: "Oh, how wonderful! When is it to be? Congratulations!" (Not "Was this planned?" or "Aren't you concerned about population growth?" or "Do you want a boy or a girl?")
The announcement of a birth: "Oh, how wonderful! Congratulations! What's the baby's name?" (Not "Did you have a difficult time?" or "That's too bad--you must have wanted a boy this time.")
The information that a couple is childless: Silence. (Not "But do you want children?" or "Why don't you have any?")
The news of miscarriage or a stillbirth: "I'm so terribly sorry." (Not "It was probably deformed, anyway" or "You'll have other children.")
The announcement of an engagement: "How lovely! I wish you both every happiness." (Not "Are you sure this is right for you?" or "Is there some special reason for your getting married just now?")
The lack of an announcement of an engagement: Silence. (Not "Aren't you ever going to get married?" or "Are you against marriage?")
The announcement of a marriage: "Best wishes!" to the bride and "Congratulations!" to the bridegroom. (Not "So you finally made it!" to the bride and "So you finally got trapped!" to the bridegroom.)
The news of a divorce: "I'm sorry--you know my good wishes are with you." (Not "What happened?" or "You seemed like the perfect couple" or "You know, none of your friends ever liked him--you're well rid of him" or "Well, of course, we all knew she'd been running around for years and it was just a matter of time.")
The news of a death: "I'm terribly sorry. Please let me know if I can do anything. You have my deepest sympathy." (Not "It was all for the best" or "Be glad she didn't suffer" or "You'll marry again" or "He wouldn't have wanted you to carry on like this" or "I never did trust that doctor" or "I suppose you're upset because you feel guilty" or "I'm surprised you're able to keep yourself going like this" or "Go ahead, cry--you'll feel better" or "You'll get over it--it's just the shock.")
Now--before you put Miss Manners down as being impossibly stuffy and unimaginative for defending the conventions, let her ask you something. Can you think of anything better than what people always say to each other when they fall in love? Or than what they do, for that matter? MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. I am a student in my early twenties and I have to study a great deal. To do this, I must spend a lot of time alone, either in libraries, cafes or other odd spots. Unfortunately, while I always begin alone, it is very difficult to stay that way.
"Gentlemen" whom I do not know, and have no wish to know, keep trying to make my acquaintance. It isn't as if I were in a bar, or even giving the slightest bit of encouragement. I certainly do not dress provocatively or make eye contact. I have even stopped smiling at people!
Yet some of these "gentlemen" persist in making nuisances of themselves. How should I deal with them, Miss Manners? I want to be polite, but I also want to be effective. Please don't tell me to change my study place: I have already done so several times, yet it keeps on happening. Besides, this occurs when I'm not studying, too.
A. You see? This is exactly why Miss Manners opposed, from the beginning, the relaxation of society's rules about accosting strangers, and the increasing acceptance of the pickup for people of moderate respectability. She has heard nothing to convince her that the advantages to lonely people outweigh the dangers of such molestation as you describe, and a lot worse.
You will be happy to learn that Miss Manners has never endorsed the idea that it is proper for a gentleman to make overtures to a lady to whom he has not been introduced. You are at liberty to make individual exceptions, if you wish, and those who enjoy it can do it all the time to their hearts' content as far as Miss Manners is concerned, but you are also free to treat it as an outrage. The idea of needing to be polite to strange men soliciting one's attention is preposterous.
Please stop making excuses about your choice of public places or of clothing. Miss Manners refuses to concede that going anywhere short of a brothel, or wearing anything except a T-shirt extending a general invitation to the public, robs you of your right to be treated as a respectable lady who does not pick her acquaintances from the street.
A man who makes any personal remark or suggestion to you should be given a cold stare, followed by a cold shoulder. If this does not discourage him, say "I beg your pardon!" (an expression whose only true use is such an occasion) in a voice loud enough to attract the attention of others, who will be able to see, from your expression, that you are being annoyed.
And if that does not work, you must inform him that if he does not leave you alone, you will invoke the aid of the nearest person of authority--the librarian, a policeman.
That, my dear, is the way people in polite society deal with such "gentlemen."