The pride people take nowadays in their ability to recognize and articulate each nuance of a passing feeling is inexplicable to Miss Manners. Knowing how you feel does not seem at all difficult to her. The trick, rather, is to register the feeling and then let it pass without remarking upon it.
Life is full of situations that cry out not to be commented upon. And yet the world is full of people who are, as dear Christopher Fry had one of his characters in "The Dark Is Light Enough" describe another, masters of the obvious.
It should, for example, be obvious that everyone eats, that some people eat more than others, that individuals nearly all have food preferences and that many have particular foods that they never take, for one reason or another. Yet nearly all the talk at mealtimes, and a great deal of that in between, forms a running commentary on the eating that is or is not taking place.
"You didn't touch your dessert . . . I thought you were on a diet . . . Are you going to have seconds? . . . You have to finish this because I don't want any left over . . . Didn't you like the soup? . . . I'm not supposed to eat salty things . . . Where do you buy your meat? . . . Oh come on, I made this specially for you . . ."
It's enough to make Miss Manners queasy. Some time ago, she told you to cut out all that talk about wine, as it was getting to be vulgar, and now she must tell you the same thing about food. Gather around the table and enjoy yourselves, by all means--or don't enjoy yourselves if that is what you prefer--but please stop talking about what you or anybody else is eating.
Miss Manners hopes she need not remind you that certain unscheduled events at the dinner table, or anywhere else, should pass unremarked. The answer to "excuse me" is not, "Where are you going?"
There is also altogether too much comment these days about how people look. The only way you are supposed to notice that someone looks is "nice" as in "My, don't you look nice!" or some equally innocuous variation., In fact, if your supposed comment would not sound right after an opening of "my", whether or not you use this colloquialism, it should not be said. One can imagine, for example, "My, what a pretty dress," "My, how rested you look after your vacation," and "my, how grown up you look," but not, "My, how stout you're getting," "My, what a terrible haircut," or "My, you're going to be a squirt like your father, aren't you?"
Miss Manners does not believe in commenting at all upon emotional appearance, unless it is being displayed with obvious provocative theatricality. "Why do you look so depressed?" is a rude question unless the person has been clamoring for your attention in order to show you ravages you are responsible for making.
Even "Why are you crying?" is a question that should be put only by parents, those temporarily in charge of weepers under the age of 6, and people who recognize that the chief effort of the crier is to project the sobs, rather than to conceal them. The therapeutic effect of unburdening one's sorrows is often exaggerated in comparison with the comfort of believing that one's lapse has gone unnoticed.
It is, in fact, a basic human dignity, all too often ignored these days, to be allowed to exercise one's taste and get through the vicissitudes of ordinary life, without having to subject it all to the critical scrutiny of those whose taste and judgment we do not remember requesting.Q.I am a young woman in her middle thirties who has been corresponding for over a year with an outstanding scholar, a much older man, about a literary subject that interests us both. He has been signing his full name or his initials, and I have been addressing him as Dr. XYZ.
In his last three letters, he has signed only his first name or first initial. Does that mean that I should now address him by his first name, or should I wait for him to ask me expressly before I take that step?
I have asked my friends, and everyone has a different answer. I don't want to jump the gun; on the other hand, I don't want to make him feel older by not taking a hint, if that is what it is. The relationship is quite friendly.A.Miss Manners doesn't want to jump the gun here, either, but she has settled it quite firmly in her mind that this scholar has fallen madly in love with your kindred mind and enchanting epistolary style, and plans either to propose marriage, or, if that turns out to be inappropriate for either of you, to make you his literary protege' and heiress, providing you with invaluable entree into your mutual field, and eventually bequeathing you valuable papers.
If this is his intention, or even if he has only absent-mindedly forgotten that you have not formally become friends and colleagues since you have never met, he has to declare himself more clearly. Miss Manners advises you to continue to address him formally, and to sign your full name. Eventually, then, he will write, "I feel as if I know you," and who knows where that will lead?Q.My stepson will be married this fall, and his bride has shared her distress with me about potential problems, to which I add my own share of hesitancy.
1. Where should the mother of the groom be seated during the church ceremony?
2. Where should his father and I be seated?
3. Should I, his stepmother, wear a suit and hat rather than a party dress?
4. Must I invite our son's mother to the rehearsal dinner, even though I will be serving the meal in our home, the former home of the mother?
5. Where should the mother be seated at the bridal table at the reception and dinner?
6. Must I invite the mother of the groom to the shower I will be giving the bride? The shower will also be held in my home.
My personal feelings towards his mother are that since I obviously can't do anything about her, she is a fact of life, undesirable as she may be. She is his mother, and I wouldn't want to be the one to keep her from enjoying her own son's wedding. But I really and honestly do not think I can handle entertaining her in my, formerly her, home.
In our opinion, the seating in the church ceremony matters little. We would gladly give up the first pew to the mother and her parents, and we then would sit anywhere else. However, the bride's wish is that my husband sit between his ex-wife and me. That makes me cringe; it upsets him; and it would be a confusing statement to the other guests. To me, that would be in the worst of taste. Please help us!A.Miss Manners believes it her duty to take the point of view of those who solicit her advice, rather than to wander off with unrequested sympathy for the villains in their stories. But asking her to condone barring a mother from an event connected to her son's wedding on the grounds of the pain at having to entertain her felt by a wife who is in possession of husband and home is too much.
Also under the category of too much is the notion that a whim of the bride's should dictate seating against all tradition and common sense.
If the two of you will please get a grip on yourselves on these two issues, Miss Manners will resume her natural graciousness and give your problems full attention.
1. The mother of the bridegroom, and her immediate relatives if she wishes, sit in the first pew on the right.
2. You and your husband sit behind them, unless you think your presence will provoke her to violence, in which case you let your husband sit there and take a less conspicuous position yourself.
3. Both a dressy suit and an afternoon (party) dress, with hat, are suitable for a wedding so you may wear either. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no special costume for mothers or stepmothers, and those who distinguish themselves by wearing long dresses during the day, as if they were superannuated bridesmaids, are not acting in what we shall gently call the best of taste.
4. The immediate family is invited to the rehearsal dinner, and you cannot get more immediate than being the bridegroom's mother. If you don't want her in your house--or if it would be painful for her to be a guest in her former home--then hold the thing somewhere else.
5. The parents do not sit at the bridal table, which is for the bridal couple and their attendants. It is customary to have a parents' table, at which the clergyman or woman with spouse and special relatives or friends (grandparents, godparents and such) sit, but there is no reason not to have two such tables to keep unfriendly parents and stepparents separated.
6. You should not be giving a bridal shower; friends, not immediate relatives of the bridal couple, do that. But if you do it anyway, remember what you promised Miss Manners about your house. Q.I am 28 years old, and have very straight dark-brown hair which falls two-thirds of the way to my waist.
My husband adores it long, and I enjoy it, too, but I wonder just how much longer I can wear it this way and not look like I'm imitating a teen-ager. I've tried various ways to pull it back and up, but am not very talented at it. My experience with hairdressers has always been that they want to cut long hair, not style it. Also, my hair doesn't hold waves or curls.
Most people say I look younger (maybe 23) and I consider myself attractive but not a ravishing beauty. My husband and I have a black tie affair coming up and I'm in a quandary as to how to wear my hair.A.One could make a case for its being none of Miss Manners' business how you wear your hair, as long as you behave properly. One could, but Miss Manners won't.
She considers the voluntary aspects of one's appearance a visual expression of manners. If your husband were to wear jeans when black tie was specified, for example, it would obviously be a provocative violation of etiquette. So she is flattered that you consulted her on this matter.
Fashion has retained the essence of the old-fashioned custom of a lady's putting up her hair on reaching maturity (a state happily anticipated, as so it should be), by frequently assuring women that short hair is more flattering and more appropriate than long to anyone over 25. Actually, long hair put up achieves the same effect, only (in the opinion of such romantics as your husband and Miss Manners) better. As you will learn from looking at 19th century fashion plates or paintings, the basic "bun" can be adapted to any type of hair or face, and a slightly slipshod look is considered part of the charm.
It is as appropriate for daytime as for evening, when fancy combs or flowers may be added. Besides, when your husband begins to look forward to watching the ritual of your slowly taking down your hair at night, for his eyes alone, daytime fashions will seem less important to you both.Q.In this day and age, you hear so many people talking about their "formal" dining room or living room. I would like to know when a dining or living room becomes formal.A.When it's kept clean all the time, and family members who so much as enter it are accused by the person who does that cleaning of "tracking through" there.
We had the same arrangement in another day and age, except that the living room was called the front (or best) parlor, and the real living room, now called the recreation or family room, was called simply the parlor. The first-ranking dining room was then called the dining room, and the runner-up, the breakfast room or, in really grand houses, the family dining room. 1983, United Feature Syndicate Inc.