Personally, Miss Manners has always believed that the purpose of summertime leisure was to allow her to lie back against the cushions of the porch swing and ruminate, while everyone else ran about for his health, being sporty.
In principle, she has nothing against the idea of using the time for self-improvement, if only she could think of something to improve. Others may certainly do so, and children probably should. So you would think, given Miss Manners' crusading spirit when she begins to think, in the fall, that she would be pleased beyond measure to hear of American children having spent their summers attending etiquette camp.
Indeed, she was, at first. With all her heart, she believes that manners must be taught by parents to their children, 14 hours a day (nine hours for sleep, and no shouting instructions to them while they're in the bathroom) in order to be effective. But she has also noticed that there is a lot of remedial work to be done, and is heartily grateful for all assistance in this noble effort.
Imagine her horror, however, when she found out some of the things that were being taught at etiquette camps. There was one story about 3-year-olds having been trained to kiss ladies' hands--possibly the most extreme example of bad manners ever perpetrated upon an innocent child and his hapless victims. Hand kissing is not properly performed at all by Americans, by children or, literally, by anyone--a mature European gentleman who has been brought up to do so may kiss the air above the hand of a married lady only, but anyone else who tries it is being pretentious and ridiculous.
How many 3-year-olds, or 13-year-olds, in this country know how to greet someone correctly by looking him or her in the eye, shaking hands and saying clearly and pleasantly, "How do you do?" That is what one ought to learn at camp if one is not learning to make lanyards.
Other children were being taught to order food in French, take afternoon tea and refrain from drinking the water in finger bowls. These are all useful skills. May Miss Manners assume that they were already proficient in eating chicken, chewing with their mouths closed and generally making themselves pleasant during family dinner--remembering to refrain from announcing all their food dislikes?
There was a refresher course in how to ride in a limousine, which, in Miss Manners' experience, is one of the least difficult of life's trials. Riding on a public bus so that nobody's feelings or shins are bruised seems to be one of the most difficult.
What upsets Miss Manners most profoundly, presuming that a person whose biggest burst of energy is toward the lemonade can be said to be profound, is that all this perpetuates the public idea that manners are a series of snobbish gestures that the rich, or those who wish to pass for rich, use to intimidate the poor.
Miss Manners has met few children in her life whose most urgent need is to be taught to manipulate the symbols of luxury properly. Properly brought-up children learn such things if and when they are appropriate to their lives. The child whose family has a limousine is routinely taught--if he is taught any manners at all, and the rich are far from setting a good example on that score--to treat it and the driver with consideration.
And improperly brought-up children, of whatever income level, will not be served by lessons that compound their basic bad manners with snobbery.
Q. I am an attorney working for an agency of the federal government. I share an office with another attorney. Often, we keep our door shut in order to concentrate. The problem is with my boss. He insists on knocking at our office door and then walks right in without waiting for an answer. Don't you think his behavior rude? And what can we do about it?
A. Well, you could lock the door and shout "No, no, wait a minute, we're busy in here," every time he knocks. That shouldn't be too many more times. Miss Manners is sorry to disagree with you, but bosses do have walk-in privileges during working hours. The fact that he knocks on the door at all is a courtesy, not to be interpreted as anything more than a formality.
Q. My mother, sister-in-law and I have decided to change hairdressers after about 10 years for me and my mother, and approximately four years for my sister-in-law. We are now going to the same new hairdresser. I still patronize my old beautician by letting her do my daughter's hair. How should we explain to her that we have decided to change hairdressers?
A. She already knows. You have not explained to Miss Manners why all of you made this change, but she can think of no reason that would console the former hairdresser. Fortunately, there is no need to offer any explanation at all, although Miss Manners appreciates the quaverings of loyalty that prompted you to think so. She has heard of people leaving their spouses with fewer qualms.
Q. I can understand wearing name tags at large corporate gatherings or various business and church meetings. In certain situations, where one-on-one introductions are impossible, I feel it is acceptable. But lately it seems that no matter what kind of function I attend, I am requested to wear my name on my chest.
Recently my husband and I attended a black tie affair of approximately 60 people, many of whom we know. It was an elegant social affair with fine dining (name cards on table), pleasant conversation and entertainment. We were greeted at the door with a request to fill out a name tag so it would be "easier to get to know each other."
At that moment, I did not wish to apply a sticky tag to my sheer silk dress. As the evening progressed, I discovered I was the only one without a name tag. This seemed to be a great problem for many people, as numerous comments of "Didn't you get a tag?" and "Did you know you were supposed to fill out a tag?" and "Thank goodness for these tags, I have a terrible memory for names," followed me throughout the evening.
Somehow, seeing white cards on tuxedos and evening gowns seemed rather tacky. Am I old-fashioned in thinking that a black tie affair is not a convention? Am I too sensitive in believing it is important to remember a person's name, especially those sitting with me at dinner for at least the duration of the evening?
I realize that in today's society we wear the names of others on our clothing, but I feel something is lost when we must post our names on our anatomy in order to make life "easier."
A. As one who cannot remember names--nay, who cannot smile and hear a name at the same time, and therefore on whom introductions are wasted--but who also refuses to wear any clothing that has the label showing, Miss Manners supports you wholeheartedly.
Name tags have a place in business gatherings, but not social ones. It is not the size of the gathering--at a wedding for 500, it would still not be acceptable to wear a tag saying, "Hello! I'm the bride's second cousin, Candy! Who are you?"--but the fact that it is social in nature, that requires a pretense to be maintained that people will make the effort to learn one another's names.
This may be impossible, but there are ways of keeping up the pretense. Place cards on tables are acceptable, for instance, because officially their function is only to tell people where to sit--but one should leave one's card so that the people on either side can read it surreptitiously. When all else fails, you work around the name and ask someone, "Who was that?" in the hope that it is not the forgotten person's spouse.
Q. I lost my dear brother recently. He had been married 40 years and I am very fond of his wife.
I still feel she is my sister-in-law, but some friends say that once my brother is gone, she is not my sister-in-law any longer.
What is right?
A. You are right. Your sister-in-law is still your sister-in-law.
However, your friends are not friends.