All right for you, Leo Buscaglia. Cut it out.
Ladylike though she may invariably be, Miss Manners does not allow her reputation or her person to go undefended.
In his latest book, the gentleman who believes in free-lance hugging for friend and stranger alike reports, correctly, that Miss Manners is a dissenter from his doctrine for improving the world.
But his account of their encounters must be corrected.
"Miss Manners," the gentleman writes in "Loving Each Other" (by which Miss Manners presumes he means "Loving One Another," but, then, what's grammar when the heart is involved?), "actually asked me not to touch her. She said she only allowed her husband and King Louis XIV to touch her. In the end I hugged her anyway, hoping that she received sufficient hugs from her husband, knowing that it was too late for Louis XIV."
Not exactly. In the first place, Miss Manners did not actually ask the gentleman not to touch her, although she certainly would have done so, possibly in Latin, if she had known he was contemplating it.
On the one occasion that Miss Manners knowingly met him, he informed her that he had once observed her in a foreign hotel elevator, and had contemplated hugging her but had been somehow warned off by her manner. (Miss Manners' elevator manner tends to be eyes-on-the-numbers, purely in the not always realized hope that she will disembark on the correct floor.)
Indeed, he was right to trust his instinct. Miss Manners would not have submitted willingly to the impromptu embraces of a stranger on an elevator, and anyone who wishes to interpret this as a symptom of emotional ill health is most welcome to do so.
She even carries this frigidity to the point of believing that it is a respectable lady's fundamental privilege to decide who shall fondle her and who may not.
On the lighter side of this, the deterioration of the dignified and friendly American handshake into promiscuous social kissing annoys Miss Manners for its patently phony show of intimacy where little or none may exist.
However, being one to yield to acknowledged conventions rather than to make scenes about abstaining, she did, indeed, suffer without protest a public hugging from this gentleman, erroneously implying to onlookers that they were old friends, although they had in fact been introduced only a few minutes previously. (Miss Manners has been known to attempt warding off the more ridiculous instances of this, firmly putting out a hand on meeting people for the first time, in the hope of giving would-be instant kissers a fist in the tummy, but it doesn't always succeed.)
On the darker side is the idea that everyone is available as a target for whatever physical promptings others may have. The society has only recently become aware of a severe problem resulting from the failure to teach children the basic right of refusal to allow anyone to touch them.
At any rate, on the public occasion that Miss Manners and the hugging gentleman did formally meet, she explained to their mutual audience that she and he belonged to different schools of etiquette.
"He believes in hugging on first sighting," she said. "I, on the other hand, belong to the school of etiquette of the Queen Mother of England who, after President Carter had taken the liberty of grabbing her and kissing her, commented frostily, 'Nobody but my late husband was allowed to do that.'
"Nobody," Miss Manners continued on her own behalf, "except my husband is allowed to do that. And, of course, her husband, George VI, and dear Prince Albert."
Therefore, speaking of unauthorized familiarity, Miss Manners is astonished to find her name linked with that of Louis XIV.
Louis XIV? Oh, gross. Why, Miss Manners can't even bear his furniture.
Q: The scenario: A lady, impeccably attired, enters, and when a backside view is observed, the label in her top-side garment (dress or blouse) is sticking outside the garment. It appears that she is unaware of this fact, and this is the only flaw in an otherwise very attractive and pleasant appearance.
The gentleman notices it and feels that all others, except, obviously, those in her party, do also. She is a stranger and the gentleman is unaccompanied. Is there something that the gentleman could or should do, other than to shake his head and mutter, sotto voce, "Pity!"
A: Just the other night, Miss Manners had the impulse to plunge into the row in front of her at the opera house and do up the hook of the velvet blouse being worn by the otherwise impeccable lady sitting in front of her. She certainly understands the temptation.
But she controlled herself. The gentleman next to Miss Manners, who also confessed to having fingers itching to help, also controlled himself.
It is probably just as well. Ladies do not react well when strangers, especially strange gentlemen, start fiddling with the clothes on their backs. The most you can say is, "Excuse me, madam, but there seems to be something caught on the back of your dress," and hope she doesn't reply with a shriek.
Q: I have been invited to visit a perfect stranger for a week. She is the daughter of a lifelong friend.
I do not know anything about her house -- not her preferences, not her decor. I don't know if it is a palatial home or a very humble home.
What would you suggest as a suitable house gift? I have very moderate means and am 84 years old.
When do I present the gift? When I arrive or when I leave?
A: Such a present may be sent after the visit, when you know more about the tastes of your hostess.
But since Miss Manners has a good idea for something you may bring (and give on your arrival day, as soon as you have settled in your room), you need not wait. Give her either a book or a small item of food, such as a box of candy, with the gracious words, "I don't know if you have inherited your mother's tastes, but this is something she and I have always enjoyed."