"Don't take it personally. She acts like that to everyone." "You just have to take me as I am."
"Oh, that's just his way."
"Don't be hurt. That's her idea of fun."
"You have to understand that I never . . . " write letters, visit the sick, wear a suit, associate with children, wait in line, invite people back.
Miss Manners is not aware that exemptions are available in the realm of manners, or that you can be excused from general civility or the performance of basic social duties if you bring a note from your mother.
Yet many people, and -- if not their mothers -- then other apologists on their behalf, seem to believe that pleading eccentricity should get them a waiver on certain or all points of etiquette. They acknowledge that social conventions exist, have no objection to others having to follow them -- indeed, they may be glad to profit from the politeness of others -- but they think of themselves as special cases, to whom such rules do not apply.
The list of virtuous-sounding rationales for rudeness is a long one. Miss Manners is only too familiar with the declaration that honesty entitles people to go around insulting one another without having to fight duels with their victims, and that self-expression means that children have a right to destroy other people's property.
She also hears many descriptions of extenuating circumstances as a basis for rudeness: The person who breaks into the front of the line declaring, "I'm in a hurry" (as opposed to everyone else in line, who would just as soon stand there all day, having nothing better to do), or who explains not thanking people for presents with, "You just can't imagine how busy I've been" (in contrast to the empty lives in which choosing and sending presents must have been a welcome diversion).
The exemption declaration has some of that in it. If an excuse is offered, it describes what seems to be a permanent condition: "Of course, he's my friend and I'm sorry for him, but you see, sick people upset me, so I just make it a rule never to go to hospitals."
More often, the explanation is only that ordinary customs are simply not to one's taste: "Well, I don't know if I'm coming to your wedding -- I like to be spontaneous, and I don't know how I'll feel then. Also, I never dress up."
Either way, the argument for eccentricity is that one has decided to make one's own social laws. It may not be stated that the eccentric is above the conventions and regulations that apply to ordinary people. Sometimes, it may even be cheerfully declared that he is below them -- "Oh, I'm so terribly disorganized that you can't have expected me to remember a lunch date," or "He just makes it a point to be crude to everyone."
But you can hear that note of pride: You, my dear, it seems to say, lead a humdrum life in which you issue little invitations and expect people to be so pleased that they will feel bound by all the silly rules, but I am too free a spirit to be caught. Or: You, of course, must ingratiate yourself to others by all kinds of polite and flattering talk, but I am so worthy that I can afford to disdain people.
None of this goes over with Miss Manners, who believes that if anything, duty increases with stature. It is no use wishing or imagining yourself as being so rich, famous, talented and successful that you can afford to be rude, because that's exactly when you get taxed highest -- with noblesse oblige.
Nor does it go over among most people with whom the self-declared exception comes into contact. The usual, and sensible, response to people who are rude, with whatever claims and explanations, is to avoid them.
It is the apologists whom Miss Manners pities. Having decided to tolerate rudeness themselves, for whatever reason, they then make the argument that the perpetrators have special qualities that put them above mere consideration for others -- in the hopes that those others will join them as victims.
It seems to Miss Manners a poor plea, indeed. If they truly believe that some people have the special right to be rude, then surely they should acknowledge the right of others to label them rude, and to enjoy the privilege of shunning them.
Q. We are at quite a loss as to the proper way of eating those delightful (but crumbly) French treats, croissants.
When seated at table with dessert plate and accompanying silver, does one break away with one's hands a bite-sized piece, spread whatever is offered and eat, repeating until the croissant is finished? Or may one tear the delicacy in half lengthwise (an authentic croissant is impossible to cut), spread both sides and eat?
Although one may have his or her heirloom linen napkin properly placed on the lap, what is to be done with the many flaky crumbs that invariably end up everywhere but on said linen?
A. While only too aware that croissants are often made with sweet fillings, Miss Manners is confused by the mention of a dessert plate. Officially, there is no difference between croissants and other rolls, however much we know the truth in this instance of vive la difference.
One must therefore break off a two-bite part, slather on the goodies, and then repeat the process. Officially, one has to leave the flakes, because they are impossible to pick up -- unless (come closer, Miss Manners is about to tell you a secret) you lick your finger while nonchalantly passing your hand near your face, and then transfer the flakes to your mouth in the same undetectable fashion. (If you get caught, you must deny that Miss Manners told you this.)