Having twice been roundly accused of lack of sympathy recently, Miss Manners would like to restate the offending cases in the hope of eliciting some sympathy of her own--not personally, of course, but for her cause.
The cause is that of politeness. In both cases, the subjects with whom Miss Manners did not sympathize to the satisfaction of her readers were, as they pointed out, under the provocation of rudeness themselves.
Very well. But if rudeness is a legitimate motivation for retaliation in kind, where, with each rudeness begetting another rudeness, will it all end? Right where we are now, no doubt, in the very state that originally aroused Miss Manners' crusading spirit.
Politeness, under pleasant conditions among those to whom you are kindly disposed, is easy. (No, actually that isn't true--there are no battles of etiquette so vicious as those connected with wedding arrangements.) Politeness when others are being rude is harder. But, then, if virtue were easy, one would not be entitled to the wonderful compensation of smugness.
One of Miss Manners' cases concerned business, the other was domestic.
The business one had to do with the telephone company's treatment of the public. Miss Manners was interested to find that her personal log of incidents, kept during a particularly trying period with her local telephone company (that is, one in which she wanted some business transacted), was taken, by readers who identified themselves as telephone employes, to be hyperbole.
It was not, but Miss Manners does not, in turn, doubt the veracity of their examples of rudenesses routinely committed against telephone operators by members of the public, or of the explanations of pressing conditions under which irritation is the natural result of the workload. Nevertheless, she expects a standard of politeness.
The family complaint was from a stepmother, married late in life, whose grown-up, non-resident stepdaughters ignored her when visiting their father and failed to include her in planning sessions for one's approaching wedding. Miss Manners suggested that the stepmother cheerfully ignore the slights and set a higher standard of behavior for the family.
Readers in similar positions protested the painfulness of it and the wrongness of the young women in not treating their father's wife with consideration and affection.
The easiest thing to do when one is treated rudely is to withdraw from the company of rude people. But telephone operators cannot do this, nor can a stepmother whose husband and stepchildren are close to one another.
One can be rude in return, which is what is usually done these days, or one can, with less blame, act clearly hurt.
Neither does any good. And it is doing good, in both senses, that Miss Manners is trying to promote.
She certainly does not condone rude telephoners or stepdaughters, and is indignant at being taken for defending them when she is trying to calm down those whom they have provoked. Nor does she ask that their rudeness be suffered with apparent acceptance.
Her recommendation, rather, is that they be shown up with relentlessly good-natured, faultless politeness.
Gentle Readers, do you have any idea how annoying cheerful oblivion is, in those whom you are trying to provoke? If you did, you would not think Miss Manners abandons the cause of the provoked who want to get even.
Q.This is not the first time, nor even the first time this month, that my husband has received an invitation to a social event addressed only to him at our house. I am offended. Do I have a right to be? Is this the etiquette of the '80s?The event in question is a formal dinner party given in a hotel at the cost of $300 per couple. Perhaps the organizers felt I couldn't afford it, but my husband could? I am a housewife, and he is head of a government agency. We have been married 10 years and are not separated.
Another was to a museum cocktail reception. Someone asked me for a ride, and when I said I had not been invited, she said I should have been. So I called the sponsoring organization, and the receptionist said, "Of course you are invited. The staff sent that out, and they don't know anything." It seems to me they should.
What about dinner parties in someone's home? Shouldn't the wife be included? I always do. People who aren't wives, too--dates, house guests, elderly infirm parents, small ill children.
Should I automatically throw away such invitations? It isn't as though they were sent to his office.
A.Miss Manners always shudders when she hears the phrase "etiquette of the '80s." It generally means that people are trying to justify doing something rude.And indeed, it is rude to invite a married person to an evening or weekend social event without also inviting the spouse. (This does not apply to weekday occasions, such as lunches or even, increasingly, breakfasts.)
But we do have a legitimate 1980s factor here that has complicated the situation and led to such errors as have been directed at you. That is that the nice, simple, clear-cut fact of legal marriage, once useful in defining who was part of a couple and who was not, is no longer workable as a standard.
Miss Manners has given up the practice of inquiring kindly after the spouses of people she has not seen for more than a year, after having gotten too many bitter replies. She has also learned that unmarried couples are much more conventional than married ones about being invited in tandem, and are quick to take offense if their unions are not treated as inviolate.
All this has immeasurably exasperated hosts--those kindly folk who only want to offer their hospitality as it would be best enjoyed, but are unable to keep up with everyone's couplings and uncouplings, perhaps not willing--this is a point at which Miss Manners sticks--to have their parties treated as opportunities for treating new acquaintances to a free date.
All of this is not intended to excuse those who have excluded you, who are leading a socially orderly life. Miss Manners is merely explaining that it will continue to happen.
The solution is for your husband to reply to all such invitations by saying politely, "I'm sorry, but I really don't enjoy parties without my wife," and allow them to make explicit your invitation.
A male professor was wearing a tie with the letters "MCP," and a young woman student innocently asked what they meant. He told her (male chauvinist pig) and then lifted up the front flap, revealing a topless woman on the inside flap. Naturally, she was stunned. What would you advise her to do?
A.At the time, she might have said, in a loud, shocked voice, "Is that a dirty picture?" Having let that opportunity go, she should now wait until he is surrounded by his colleagues and superiors, and then inquire, also in a clear voice that carries, "Is that the tie you flashed at me with the obscene picture inside?"
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?
A. Yes, to all of the above. This argument is not, however, very entertaining dinner conversation. When the host says firmly. "Please forget it," he is actually also saying, "For heaven's sake, will you stop spoiling the dinner by rattling on about it?"
At this point, the polite guest drops the issue (more quietly than he dropped the glass) and goes shopping the next day, sending the replacement goblet with his thank-you letter, the theme of which is the pleasant evening, not the remorse of the guest.
Copyright (c) 1983, United Feature Syndicate Inc