"I suppose you're tired of hearing this," people say with surprising frequency when offering their congratulations upon the successfully realized dreams of friends or acquaintances.
Miss Manners is puzzled by their assumption of what is boring. She admits that boredom is a factor that defies logic--why, for example, does she slide sleepily into her soup plate when her dinner partner volunteers information about his own sexual proclivities, but wake up suddenly if he offers similar information about someone sitting across the table?
But how could anyone be bored at receiving complimentary congratulations? Miss Manners would prefer not to speculate on what, then, would bring that little glow of warm pleasure to the cheeks of such people.
She supposes, however, that this strange but widespread idea that pleasant remarks are anathema to those who receive them accounts for the current fashion of offering unpleasant congratulations.
The best congratulatory remarks are the simplest and most conventional: "Congratulations . . .I'm so happy for you . . .You deserve the best . . ." and so on. (You may take it for a general principle that the things one is happiest in life to hear --"I love you," "You just won the lottery," "The lab test came back, and you're fine"--are worded in time-honored, and not new and cute, ways.)
Here, however, is a partial collection of currently fashionable congratulations:
"You might as well enjoy it--it doesn't last."
"I hate you." (This is cheerfully offered, with an explanation available on how the congratulator would have preferred that it had happened to him instead of you.)
"You'll be happy to hear . . ." followed by a recital of someone else's having attempted the same success but failed.
"How does your family take it?" (Sometimes this is directed toward family members, in a sympathetic tone.)
"We're all terribly jealous of you."
Why, thank you. You're so kind to say so.
That is the reply Miss Manners recommends for any form of compliment, but she can imagine that the recipients of the ones mentioned would have a hard time producing the proper facial expression of shining delight to go with it.
Perhaps it is true that the world is so bad that good things are only felt in the grudges of others. Perhaps there are people so mean-spirited that they truly resent the successes of their friends, that family members are presumed to be discomforted by the triumphs of their relatives, and that the benefactors of good fortune themselves only enjoy it by savoring the contrast with the less fortunate.
Miss Manners does not believe this. It strikes her that any addition to the sum of happiness in the world is of benefit to us all, and that even the most selfish analyst would rejoice in such a sign of abundance.
But even if it is true, she would wish that those who feel so would put a decent garment of courtesy and pretended kindness on their feelings. It is not easy to thank someone for having assured you that your happiness is making everyone around you miserable and that you are no doubt deriving immense satisfaction from that.Q.My husband and I had a most interesting experience last evening, and rather than start a scene in the restaurant, I am writing to you, still in shock.As soon as we were seated for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, a "gentleman" from the next table reached over and took our water pitcher from our table. He never asked for it and only said, "Boy, this sauce is hot." When he tried to return the pitcher, I told him to keep it.
Perhaps I should have stated my displeasure, but being a well-bred young lady, and with a hush from my husband, I didn't. We certainly kept a careful eye on our food the rest of the evening.
What do you think of that? Is there something I should have said or done?A.During the course of the evening, did the gentleman attempt to partake of your other supplies? Did he say, "Boy, am I hungry," and grab one of your tacos? Did he say, "Boy, this is messy," and grab the napkin from your lap?Miss Manners rather doubts it. She believes that one could generously put his conduct under the classification of a state of emergency. If a house is on fire, you grab the nearest bucket; and if your mouth is, you do the equivalent thing.
The most you could have done was to signal a waiter and request a pitcher of water, after telling the offending gentleman not to think of returning your original pitcher. Your pique does not qualify as a state of emergency in which the rules of etiquette may be suspended.Q.My daughter was saved from extensive injury and maybe death because she was wearing a seat belt. About the same time, the daughter of a friend of mine was not wearing a seat belt, and was involved in an accident not far from her home, in good weather, in the afternoon. Her face hit the instrument panel. She had to have a knee fused, and a great deal of plastic surgery, which did not restore her former beauty.
I insist that my passengers use seat belts in my car, and have them set up so they are easy to fasten. I try to do this in a tactful way, saying that I can be a better driver knowing that I am taking every precaution for the safety of my friends. Some tell me about people being trapped in a car and burned. More often, they protest at the bother, with an air of amusement and condescension at my foolishness.
I try to use a seat belt when I am riding in another's car, but they are stuck down inside the seat, won't pull out, or I feel I am putting the driver to a lot of bother and implying he or she is not a good driver. What are the rules in these cases?A.Miss Manners makes rules of etiquette, not safety rules, although she must admit that matters of safety do take precedence. (In the choice between the impoliteness of criticizing a friend unasked, or allowing him to drive you while drunk, for example, politeness loses.)
But etiquette will help you here, because the driver of a car is entitled to the prerogative of the captain of a ship in setting the rules that passengers must obey. You may soften your commands by assuming an air of lovable fastidiousness ("Well, I know, but it just makes me feel better") but you need not--you should not--abdicate your power.
Similarly, in another's car, you merely murmur, "I feel happier with the seat belt on," while digging it up. Grisly stories with sobering morals are not necessary.Q.How can a host or hostess indicate to their guests -- adults and children alike--the necessity of washing their hands after using the bathroom? Among the couples we know no one observes thisessential hygienic function. Our powder room is stocked with soaps and towels. We certainly don't want to post a sign in there. What can we say to our guests?A.Nothing whatsoever. Unless your bathroom is also equipped with a peephole, you do not know what they are or are not doing, and it would be rather disquieting to them to pretend that you do.However, Miss Manners, who is omniscient, will tell you what they are doing. They are washing their hands by just barely touching the edge of the soap, and drying them on toilet paper or their own handkerchiefs.
This is because the misbegotten rule their parents taught them, of not using the guest towels or guest soap in their own houses, seems to be the only rule to last everyone a lifetime.Q.At a dinner party, a goblet is accidentally broken by one of the guests. Is the guest responsible for replacing the expensive goblet? Should the hosts refuse the offer? Should the guest insist on replacing?
Copyright (c) 1983, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.