By condemning "call waiting" as inherently rude, Miss Manners managed to antagonize everyone who enthusiastically endorses the new telephone technology. It was hard work to insult that many people all at once.
But now that she is rested from that endeavor, Miss Manners will attempt to finish the job by alienating those who sided with her. She will do this by endorsing the technology of answering machines.
To offset the danger of winning back the adherence of the owners of such equipment, she will condemn them, too, for misusing their machines with their silly recordings.
It does not seem to Miss Manners that the true division is between those who love telephone gadgets and therefore attach anything they can to their systems, and those who don't and so stick with the bare telephone. A more natural division, she believes, would be between those who consider the telephone an unqualified boon to civilization, and those of us who consider it a nuisance.
Let us leave out of the argument the nature of the telephone calls. Miss Manners is bored to tears hearing that it is only life-threatening emergencies that are transmitted on all this complicated equipment.
The question is whether it is rude to refuse to be on 24-hour-a-day call to whoever wishes to break electronically into your house with a blithe disregard for whatever you may happen to be doing. Is that an unbiased way of putting it?
In the days before the telephone, people sent notes and visited. But there were regular visiting hours; "morning visits" were understood to take place in the afternoon -- don't ask Miss Manners why -- and even then, there was a convention of "not being at home" that was neither meant nor interpreted literally.
No one was expected to keep constant open house. Allowance was made for those who wished, in the privacy of their own homes, to eat, sleep, work or make love without interruption.
The telephone respects no such idea. Therefore, Miss Manners, who has never accepted the popular concept that etiquette is a defenseless posture for the egoless, admires those who refuse to succumb.
It is not rude to turn off your telephone by switching it on to an answering machine, which is cheaper and less disruptive than ripping it out of the wall. Those who are offended because they cannot always get through when they seek, at their own convenience, to barge in on people are suffering from a rude expectation.
But it is also rude to waste the time of callers with stale entertainment.
The necessity of recording instructions on the answering machine seems to bring out the owners' worst show-business ambitions. The best joke in the world would be tedious to anyone who called more than once, and Miss Manners has not noticed a high standard of humor in this particular medium. Nor does having such a machine make one an impresario with a mandate to inflict his musical taste on callers.
All that is required is that one repeat the number that has been reached, in order to dismiss misdialers, and give succinct instructions on how a message may be left.
You don't need to give your name, unless you want to. You certainly don't need to offer an excuse for not answering the telephone. The caller already knows that you are "unavailable" and need not be told why. Isn't Miss Manners teaching you that you have a right to be unavailable?
You do not, however, have a right to be indignant if callers do not use the machine as instructed. People who dislike answering machines, like people who dislike being on call, have the right of refusal. Hanging up on an answering machine is not the same as hanging up on a person, any more than ignoring a telephone ring is the same as ignoring a person who is standing in front of you.
There. Miss Manners hopes now that she has reached, or shall we say gotten to, everyone. She will not take calls on the subject.
Q: I find myself most comfortable in decent weather when I wear no shoes. Unfortunately, some people find this unpleasant and offensive.
If I were to wear sandals, the tops of my feet would show to the public, yet this is not offensive. When I am barefoot, the bottoms of my feet do not show. What, then, is so offensive about wearing no shoes? What do the rules of etiquette have to say about this matter?
A: The first rule of etiquette is that logic has nothing to do with it. Etiquette is folk custom; people are offended because you violate their conventions, not because of any practical result.
In other words, it's not your smelly (or sweet) feet.
Depending on local custom, you could just as easily offend people by keeping your shoes on -- for example, when entering a Japanese home or temple -- as by taking them off.
In America, the wearing of shoes everywhere but the beach is considered minimal dress. People may speak of sanitary problems when complaining about barefootedness, but what is really bothering them is that failure to observe ordinary standards implies a lack of respect.