You can imagine how shocked Miss Manners was to hear where babies come from.
Babies, it seems, no longer appear from vegetable gardens or express deliveries by large birds (who refuse to leave them if you're not home to sign for them, even though they never tell you exactly when they will arrive). They don't even appear because Mama and Papa, as they are fond of explaining, just couldn't live without their own little snookie one more minute.
Babies appear, Miss Manners has been told, because their parents are making statements.
Making statements? With babies?
Miss Manners has been known to make statements to babies, such as, "But these are yummy-yummy apricots; you know you love yummy-yummy apricots." She has also been known to make deals with babies, such as, "Give me five more minutes' sleep, just five minutes, and I promise you I'll pick you up and bounce you around again," even though her experience with babies' integrity about fulfilling their sides of bargains has been disillusioning.
She had heard of a peculiar new form of the national sport, consumerism, whereby people claim that they, or, more often, their tasteless acquaintances, "make statements" through their selection of dry goods.
But she never paid much attention when people claimed they were getting married, or not getting married, or living together or breaking up together "to make a statement."
As a rule, Miss Manners never listens when anyone attempts to justify the simple workings of nature with what are obviously intended to pass as reasons or principles. She saves herself a great deal of time that way, which can better be spent napping.
Nevertheless, the statement that a baby is a statement of its parent disturbs her, because it seems to go with some odd forms of behavior that are not, Miss Manners believes, in the interest of an infant who can't talk, much less issue its own statements of denial or clarification.
Parents whose babies are statements don't just pass the time playing with their babies' toes until they decide they need a quick fix of adult conversation. They don't just prattle on to their friends about how far ahead of some written timetable their babies do amazing things.
Instead, they take the babies with them to a lot of unsuitable places, and they babble to others not so much about their own babies as about the babies those people should have. All this is highly offensive, to these same babies, as well as to bigger people who can't figure out how to defend themselves.
Miss Manners will therefore take their part, and announce that babies are not status items, to be used to argue the superiority of the life style of their parents. (She is reminded of an advertisement she once saw for an expensive clothing store for children, which sought to attract parents with the announcement, "Your children are part of your image.")
Having them is not a new fad, but something that has been going on for some generations now, so one gets no credit for having thought of it. For the same reason, one cannot assume that others need to be alerted to the possibility.
Babies do not belong at work or at adult social events. It is no pleasure to them to go to such things, as they are rarely interested in picking up financial tips or salacious gossip and have difficulty reading the subtitles on foreign movies. It is as unfair of the parents to take them as it is to subject others to the crankiness and boredom they quite naturally exhibit.
Ostentatious family togetherness is even harder on the babies than it is on the audience to which it is directed.
That is not to say that Miss Manners is not sympathetic with two other reasons for bringing babies to inappropriate places: that one has no one responsible with whom to leave them, and that one does not wish to be parted from one's own sweetums.
The first of these serves as an excuse for bringing children along in an emergency, provided one can give them enough attention to prevent them from disturbing others. Parties never qualify as emergencies.
The second is an excellent reason for modifying one's social life when one's children are small. Parents who understandably regret being separated from their babies on nights and weekends should learn to give after-bedtime parties for adults only, and multigenerational weekend parties, where amusements are provided for their own and the guests' children.
There is all the more reason for doing this as the parents may be quite sure that the minute the children are old enough to receive their own social invitations, they will demonstrate quite clearly that they have no interest whatsoever in making a statement of family togetherness by asking to bring their parents along.
Q I own a beautiful diamond ring, an heirloom that was originally my great-grandmother's.
My younger sister recently became engaged to a very nice young man. She claims it would be perfectly correct, if I were engaged, to simply use my ring as the engagement ring.
I insist that the man should give you a ring, purchased by himself or inherited through his family.
A There is something Miss Manners doesn't like about this question. It is the information that your sister has recently become engaged.
If not for that, this would be a pretty straightforward question, to which the answer is that although the fiance' does not supply her own engagement ring, married ladies, especially if they did not receive such rings -- which are by no means required to seal an engagement -- sometimes wear family rings of their own next to their wedding bands.
But lurking beneath the words of your letter, there is the unpleasant whiff of a suggestion that your sister feels that she, being engaged, as you presumably are not, ought to get that ring. Although Miss Manners found herself unable to rise above this suspicion, she begs you to ignore such nastiness and treat your sister's question as an entirely theoretical matter.
Q As a member of a major symphony orchestra, I receive many invitations to social gatherings in honor of the orchestra, ranging from postconcert receptions to black-tie dinners. While I and the other players are pleased to be included in these festivities, we are often confused and occasionally insulted by the nature of the invitation and-or the way we are received at the event.
Permit me to give you some specific examples:
The entire orchestra was invited to a postconcert reception at a private residence, to which we were instructed to bring our own wineglasses. A few months later, we received a similar summons, requesting that in addition to glasses, we also bring our own wine.
No one from the orchestra attended either event.
Following the opening concert of our season, the orchestra and patrons were invited to a black-tie dinner in honor of the orchestra at a private club. The orchestra was informed that, if we wanted to go, it would be at the cost to us of $35 per person.
Each year, we are also invited to the home of a wealthy supporter, who neither greets us at the door, nor makes any effort to become acquainted during the party, nor bids us farewell. Perhaps it is our responsibility to introduce ourselves to him, since he has so kindly opened his doors to us?
The soloists for the concert this week (I am pleased to be one of them) have been invited to dinner at the home of the orchestra's manager following the concert, without any mention of spouses. Perhaps this is an oversight, but it seems, in view of other omissions, to be additional evidence that we are not regarded as social entities.
If these are indeed examples of less-than-polite behavior on the part of our loyal concertgoers (perhaps patrons is unfortunately more accurate), what can be done to correct them and the possible underlying attitude?
A In what century is this happening? Miss Manners was under the impression that the position of musician as servant to his patron went out some time ago.
As your hosts seem to be unaware of this, you and your colleagues may wish to define the terms on which you may be available as a unit for parties.
1. If the orchestra management wants to have the orchestra make an appearance at a party, for reasons of publicity or of flattering donors, this should be considered an engagement, and you should receive compensation for your time. You need not then worry about being treated as part of the entertainment, instead of as a guest.
2. Any other invitations should be accepted or declined, according to the individual wishes of members of the orchestra. Any of them may refuse for whatever reason, and Miss Manners would certainly not advise anyone to accept an invitation to buy a ticket in his own honor, or to be treated as a second-class guest.
3. A party given by the orchestra manager (to whom you have been explaining all the rest of this at a business meeting) is an office party, and while some office parties are given for staff only, without spouses, many people may choose not to attend such parties alone. If most of the orchestra feels this way, the host of office parties may want to take that into account.
This separation of business from social engagements will save you a lot of wear and tear in the hurt-feelings department. Miss Manners assures you that you won't mind buying your own wine if you are getting overtime. Q I am a retired senior citizen, male, and I often play duplicate bridge at the daytime and nighttime games.
Although duplicate bridge is not supposed to be a social activity, but rather a battle of wits and knowledge, I often encounter opponents who ask me my age, residential address, and conditions and past tragedies in my life.
How can I, in a courteous way, tell them that these matters are none of their business? A In these days, when any occasion that groups people together, including waiting for a traffic light to change, is considered a social opportunity, Miss Manners cannot scold those who make social overtures over bridge, even duplicate bridge.
However, that is far from saying that you need socialize with the other players, or answer personal questions.
What you must learn to do is to look up blankly after any such question, and reply, "What? I can't concentrate on the game and talk." You are then free to return your gaze firmly to your cards.