"Why, Mr. Whiffle!" says the heroine with a wide-eyed look. "I didn't know you cared."
She then lowers those eyes demurely. "I'm afraid you will have to give me time to get used to the idea."
While Mr. Whiffle suffers, waiting for his answer, Modern Reader gets sick. This is the kind of thing, she declares, that makes old novels unreadable.
How can anyone be so hypocritically coy? Of course, the musty old heroine knew Mr. Whiffle cared. She has no intention of not accepting him. She just wants to indulge herself in this dishonest charade to make him miserable.
The modern heroine stoops to no such thing.
Immediately upon meeting Mr. Whiffle's grandson, the gourmet life-style consultant, she tells him frankly that she, being fully independent but lonely, finds him totally acceptable and invites him to share her life. In other words, she loves him.
He need not suffer any suspense. And he doesn't. He accepts her, provisionally. And then he makes her suffer.
These stories reach Miss Manners in the form of etiquette complaints from the would-be heroines. (Most things do. Miss Manners hears the most appalling tales of human misery, disguised as etiquette questions: "Was it correct for my late husband's mistress to elbow me in the stomach in order to throw herself into his coffin?" "Is it a breach of manners for my daughter-in-law See MISS MANNERS, B10, Col. 1 to encourage her children to address me as Stinkpot?")
Why, modern heroines want to know, are gentlemen so rude as to refrain from the attentions of courtship, such as regular telephone calls and appointments, let alone sending flowers, notes or presents? And why do they treat these relationships as being of little consequence and end them with no ceremony?
Etiquette aside, the real question is why do single gentlemen seem less committed when ladies are frank about their enthusiasm? Or shall we ask -- to take the unfashionable gender distinction out of this -- why the openly and instantly committed person, male or female, is likely to be slighted by the object of his or her immediately declared attentions?
Miss Manners could dismiss all this as a prolongation of the adolescent concept of romance as a sport, in which winning a heart only inspires one to look for a more challenging one. Indeed, that is her usual diagnosis when she hears people complain that the lack of uncertainty in marriage eliminates the pleasure. Grown-ups don't want to spend their lives playing guessing games, as a substitute for enjoying love.
But skipping the stages of courtship is another matter. It leads, Miss Manners believes, to skepticism about the value of the love being offered. And it actually curtails the development of reciprocal love and the courtesies it should inspire.
The Victorian heroine kept a check on expressing her feelings not only to torture her suitor, but to give him, as well as herself, time to let that first excitement of romantic attraction develop into serious longing. The looking-forward period, as any child knows who has had to wait until a birthday for something he wants, instead of having all whims satisfied on request, increases the pleasure.
She was also guarding against the humiliation of offering herself to someone who had not yet decided whether he really wanted her. That risk was considered a gentleman's burden in those days, but there is no escaping the fact that whoever makes the first overt declaration, as someone has to, runs the risk of rejection.
The last touch, that simulated surprise at the marriage proposal, was to make clear that she had no general interest in giving away her heart to a qualified candidate, but was only now considering the possibility because of the overwhelming attractions of Mr. Whiffle in particular.
In truth, the Victorian heroine had a much greater need to find someone than the modern one. Marriage was to be not just emotional sustenance, but usually the source of her livelihood. And the funny thing is that the modern heroine knows this in her own career behavior. Rather than declare that she needs a job desperately and will settle immediately, without investigating the situation, she hesitates, allowing the prospective employer to woo her and grow anxious to win her. Only after she accepts the job does she put herself wholeheartedly at the disposal of the company's welfare.
She doesn't call these tactics coyness or hypocrisy, but simply putting a high value on herself. That is also what her Victorian ancestor called it.Q I am one of those people who answer phones for a living. I have always, until now, addressed our clients and their customers with their proper titles.
My employer has just informed me that since I've been working for her for close to three months, I should unbend and start calling people by their first names. Clearly, complaints have been made that the new girl is too formal and cold. A How hot do these customers and clients want their telephone calls?
Business is a formal situation. Heat is what you may look for after hours.
Miss Manners does not wish to request anyone to disobey the instructions of her superior, but your boss seems unfortunately unaware that a great many people are profoundly irritated and insulted at the cheekiness of being addressed, by unknown people in formal business situations, by their first names. Miss Manners hears from these people by every mail, and not from anyone complaining that telephone operators aren't cuddly enough. Please find a tactful way to pass on this information.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. 1985, United Feature Syndicate Inc. Q I am writing to ask you about the practice of tipping as it relates to three situations that are outside the realm of conventional dining:
The first occurs in a sushi bar, where the preparer and server of the meal are one and the same. I have noticed glasses sitting on the bar, similar to those used by bartenders to promote gratuities. Is a tip here a given, or is it optional?
In addition, when a different person serves beverages and presents the check, should this person also receive a gratuity? If a credit card is used, which of these people benefits?
The second situation has to do with Chinese dim sum, which involves the delivery of the various foods to the table by several different waiters offering selections from carts. Again, there is a beverage server. Who merits a tip, and for what amount?
The third instance is the breakfast buffet, during which the waitress' only service to the patron is to pour coffee. Surely she is not entitled to the usual 15 to 20 percent tip.
I hope you can offer some guidelines, so that I do not inadvertently slight anyone who has provided service. A Unless you obtain a copy of the work schedule of the restaurant, and also make it your business to do a study of the performance level of each employe, you will never reach that godlike goal of distributing rewards exactly according to deserts. Or sushi. Or dim sum.
Miss Manners advises you not to try. Put your 15 or 20 percent tip on the bill, regardless of the type of restaurant or service, and let the restaurant worry about distributing it.
Each of the people you mention is on full working duty during your meal, and worrying about how hard they actually work will only upset your digestion. Q My good and longtime friend (we go back some 40 years to third grade) recently wrote me one of her typically interesting and chatty, albeit infrequent, letters. My pleasure in reading the welcome missive vanished midway, when I encountered the following:
". . . I meant to tell you that I never use 'Mrs.' Use of 'Miss' or 'Mrs.,' I believe, simply enforces the double standard.
" 'Mr.' does not reveal a man's marital status, and I do not see why a woman should be identified in this way. Indeed, I really don't like 'Mrs. John Doe' -- my name is not 'John.'
"I wish, indeed, that I, like Geraldine Ferraro, had kept my own name, but, barring that, I prefer 'Ms. Mary Doe' or, if something is for us both, 'Mary and John Doe.'
"Hope you don't think I'm being picky, but I thought you would want to know that I really hate subverting my identity to that of a man."
By the time I finished this message, I was hurt and angry on the one hand, and filled with remorse on the other. Why had she let me carry on all these years addressing her in a manner so distasteful to her? She had always addressed my mail to "Ms.," but since I am unencumbered by a spouse, the analog is inexact.
It is the wider question that brings me to Miss Manners for guidance. I do give some thought to "Miss" or "Mrs." for my female friends and relatives, but not to the issue raised by Mary. I do not like to think of my well-meant missives being received with resentment because of my insensitivity. A Miss Manners wishes to assure you that you have not been insensitive, but cannot guarantee that this will protect you from that charge on the part of not-very-sensitive people, such as your friend Ms. Mary.
You cannot have been offending her all these years, nor could she have been addressing you as "Ms." for that long. The term is not that old.
Had you used her given name in formal address when she was a bride, she probably would have told you indignantly that she was proud to bear her husband's name. Miss Manners has noticed that those who are most self-righteous about such choices are most likely to be swayed by fashion in making them.
This is not to say that Miss Manners does not approve of "Ms." It is a useful honorific and perhaps eventually will be universally accepted. But now the traditional "Miss" and "Mrs.," on which you and your friend were brought up, are still more widely used.
We cannot declare ideological warfare every time we write a letter. Until a standard, any standard, is established, everyone must observe two rules:
1. Address people as they wish to be addressed, provided, of course, you know what that is.
2. Be tolerant of other people's usage, understanding that we are all reduced, most of the time, to a combination of habit and guesswork, and refrain from claiming a higher degree of morality for your manners than for others'.
You are now in a position to perform the first, and let us hope your friend will learn to do both the first (addressing you as you choose, not as she does) and the second.