Q. The other day, my son wanted to visit a friend who had injured himself. The sole reason for the visit was that my son wanted to stare at his injury. As parents, we thought this was not a satisfactory reason and would not allow him to go.
In the course of discussing why he could not go, we said that doing so would show no class. He asked us what class meant in this context. How would you answer this question in words a 7-year-old boy could understand?
A. Class is not a terribly clear word in this context, even to Miss Manners, who is unlikely to see 7 again. She supposes you mean that class means visiting a sick person because you are concerned with that person's feelings, rather than your own.
But selfless compassion is not a feeling that comes naturally; we are all born selfish. Miss Manners suggests that you allow your child to start in second class, in the hope that he will work his way up.
She disagrees with your decision not to allow your child to visit his friend because his motives were not noble. Send him off with strict instructions to pretend to be sympathetic with the illness, but apparently not unduly curious. (Some interest in the nature of the illness usually is agreeable to patients.) Perhaps his sympathies will truly be aroused. If not, he still will have done better by his friend than he would have by ignoring the friend.
Form comes first in matters of class, and while one hopes that feeling will follow, going through the form well without it is more acceptable, more classy if you will, than eschewing the form because the feeling is not there.
Q. I am a married woman whose last name is not the same as her husband's. It is a minor, but very real annoyance to answer the telephone (which is in my husband's name) and have the person at the other end greet me with, "Hello, Mrs. (my husband's name)."
Female friends whose telephones are listed under their initials frequently complain that callers greet them with "Mrs." even though they are not married. The main offenders in this situation are telephone solicitors who obviously are drawing unwarranted assumptions from telephone book listings. Considering the number of households that contain unrelated people, of married women who choose not to change their names, and of women living alone, it seems to me presumptuous, if not downright rude, to use this sort of greeting.
It would be much more considerate for callers to say, "Hello, is this the residence of (the person whose name they have)?" or "Hello, may I speak with (the person they want)?"
A: What a curious letter this is, adopting, as it does, the point of view of the people you claim offend you. Indeed, Miss Manners would agree with your instructions if she were called upon to advise telephone solicitors how best to ingratiate themselves with potential customers.
But she cannot help noticing that you are on the receiving end of efforts to pretend to some sort of acquaintance with you, obviously based on nothing more than your listing in the telephone directory. It therefore strikes her as very handy that such people are not aware, as your real acquaintances must be, of the name you use. Don't you find it time-saving to know that anyone who assumes you are Mrs. Husband is someone you need not bother to pretend to know? All you need say is, "There's no one here by that name," to be done with it.
The only better tactic that Miss Manners has heard is that of a gentleman who listed his telephone under his dog's name, knowing that his friends were in on the joke, but that anyone who asked for Fido Heppleworth was a stranger.
Q: Will you please advise me on etiquette for a wedding? It will be a small, informal wedding with about 100 guests. The couple is living together. They also have a baby out of wedlock. It will be a Catholic church marriage, by a priest.
The question is, should the groom rent a tux or what should he wear? The bride is talking about an off-white bridal gown. What should she wear on her head? Flowers, hat or a short veil?
A: Miss Manners hates the white dress question. There is always a streak of meanness, not to mention vulgarity, in the way people try to connect it with behavior that is none of their business. The white dress is associated with a first wedding--a wedding being a public event--not the timing of related private events.
It is, however, a new twist to throw in the question of the bridegroom's clothing. We all know what you think the white dress symbolizes--but Miss Manners would hate to speculate about what you think gives a bridegroom the "right" to rent what you call a tux and Miss Manners calls a dinner jacket.
Of the five clues you gave as a basis for the decision, two are relevant and three not; and two of the three irrelevant ones smack of the attitude Miss Manners abhors.
A wedding of 100 guests is not so small that evening clothes and a bridal dress with veil or flowers would be out of place. On the question of formality, this is about halfway between the truly formal (white tie, long veil and cathedral train) and the truly informal (business suit and short suit or dress with hat or flowers).
The fact that the ceremony is in the Catholic church does not dictate the clothing; and that the couple was well acquainted beforehand certainly does not.
Feeling incorrect? Address your questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.