Q: On one issue at least, I am either an old-fashioned prude, or sensible. My wife thinks the former.
The issue is the dinner arrangements of a married person traveling alone and staying at a hotel for a conference or trade show. My wife and I each do this as business demands.
I think it is improper, except when schedules prevent important business from being dealt with during the day, for one married person to have dinner solely with another conference attendee of the opposite sex. My wife thinks I am overly concerned with appearances, as well as unmodern. We don't fight about this, and she doesn't "sneak" dates. However, we would appreciate your opinion.
I contend that a hotel where both are staying is not a proper setting for such a twosome to have their evening meal and drinks. I say there is a full day to arrange group dinners and conduct the same casual business contacts. Finally, I never have dinner with one woman in such situations, though I have been asked. When pressed, I say why I feel I cannot.
My wife says most of her business at such meetings is with men. If asked, she will neither turn down such an invitation nor insist on additional companions. She sees nothing wrong with such dinners, since they do not lead to less-public contact.
My wife seems to be of the "I am in charge of this situation and so what" school, and I of the "it is best to avoid potentially awkward situations" one. Our question is whether Miss Manners thinks I am too rigid and old-fashioned -- a 36-year-old fogy.
A: Miss Manners is having great trouble with your characterizations of the two sides. Given the choice, she would prefer to think of herself as old-fashioned, rigid, prudish and concerned with appearances, rather than modern and sensible. But the fact is that she sides with your wife.
Conventions such as you describe are really full-time working situations. We are not, Miss Manners trusts, talking about the kind of recreational convention that serves as an excuse to go looking for out-of-town sin. It is perfectly respectable for working people to continue having discussions or cementing professional contacts over dinner, in the convention hotel or local restaurants. Pairings or larger subgroups for this purpose are formed by interests, rather than by gender.
It is not as though one can go home to one's family in the evening. Your system would merely deprive you and your wife of using all the business hours that others will be taking advantage of, and may confine you to dreary hotel room isolation.
Q: I recently acquired the address of my biological father, with whom I have not had previous contact. What would be the proper salutation for a letter to him?
Also, would it be rude for me to include in such a letter the fact that I grew up with a large, happy family, and inform him that my stepfather is putting me through college, and probably law school? Is this a question of etiquette, or simply personal judgment? Please don't suggest that I ask my mother.
A.It is a question of etiquette that you approach your father respectfully, or not at all. What you think of your father's conduct toward yourself is a matter of judgment, but to look him up simply for the purpose of pointing out how much better your stepfather has treated you would be rude.
Now we come to the matter of exercising judgment in etiquette, at which, fortunately, Miss Manners excels. She suggests you address him as "My dear father," to avoid the stiffness of using his name, as well as the perhaps startling effect of an unexpected letter beginning "Dear Daddykins." Certainly you should tell him that you are leading a happy family life, not only as a point of information, but to relieve him of any worry about the consequences of his action. But it is not necessary to single out your stepfather's contribution.
Q: As you can see by my handwriting, my hands shake. This is due to the medicine I take for asthma. The medicine also makes me puffy and flushed, but since I can breathe, I'm not complaining.
My problem is in explaining my health problems. There are times I would like to excuse my rattling teacup or inability to write legibly as due to medicine, but I don't know how to do this. It is complicated by the fact that we are new to this area, and I am meeting people for the first time.
A: Miss Manners had no trouble reading your handwriting, but does have trouble with the idea that one must explain as common a symptom as a shaking hand to everyone, as if the most trifling departure from "normality" required an excuse. It seems to her that any civilized person who noticed would dismiss this as obviously a small medical problem, and remember that health inquiries, among all but the closest friends, are supposed to be perfunctory, and not investigations of exactly what condition everyone is in.
If you must say something -- if, for example, you broke a teacup -- make it as simple as possible ("Oh, dear, my medicine makes me so clumsy") and then pass on to another topic.