In the spirit of magnanimity, and entirely against her better judgment, Miss Manners will now present views of those who dissent from her.
Miss Manners thoroughly believes in the right of dissent. It is just that she knows from long experience that she is always right and therefore cannot, in good conscience, admit the validity of contrary views.
But she will make the effort.
A Gentle Reader has politely petitioned Miss Manners to reverse her ruling that people attending business conventions may, with propriety, continue their discussions over drinks or dinner, even if they happen to be of opposite genders and prior commitments.
"Two business people having dinner after a serious day and sticking to the guidelines is too easy a concept," she states.
"After the drinks and on into the evening, things are very, very likely to become more personal. Sometimes one is married and the other not. Sometimes one or the other is unhappy, though married.
"The setting is nonbusiness at that hour, and too often the mood becomes nonbusiness too. I'm a family therapist and I see the fallout from so many of the new working conditions. Your response was to an ideal, and most people aren't ideal. They are human, and today's arrangements don't make it easy to reach the ideal."
Miss Manners has never thought that everyone behaved ideally. (It is her task to make them do so, but she is far from finished.) She is well aware that things get very, very personal between people at the expense of their previous personal arrangements -- not only over drinks and dinner, but at laundromats, taxi lines and church picnics.
Would you ban those settings on moral grounds? Or would you treat all business people -- or more likely, just businesswomen -- as potential sinners who must be supervised?
Previous eras have set strict territorial rules -- most of them designed to inhibit women from pursuing respectable activities in case these might also provide opportunities for dalliance -- only to discover that this adds the stimulant of challenge.
As any housemother of an age-of-innocence girls' dormitory, or any spying wife who sets a network of checks and traps, could tell you, there are no rules or locks to contain determination. One must trust people to enforce their own morality. Miss Manners admits that there is not too much of that going around.
In response to Miss Manners' advice on how to leave a party politely when one discovers upon entering that it will be a bore, a Gentle Reader suggests: "You might have advised that a more thoughtful guest would have sympathized with the host and pitched in to make the party succeed. I feel it is selfish and inconsiderate for a guest to conclude that he/she will not be entertained adequately and must therefore bail out ASAP."
Miss Manners experimented with being ashamed of herself -- a novelty, as you can imagine -- for being less thoughtful than this reader. She endorses the charming idea -- but with one reservation.
Some parties are intended to be awful. That is, they feature entertainment that a guest can't bear -- a particular sort of music, perhaps, or business hustling in the guise of social conversation, or games one is no good at. In that case, the trapped guest can follow Miss Manners' advice and, politely declaring gratitude for the opportunity to drop by in spite of previous obligations, leave.
Now for the hundreds of readers who protest that they want perfume banned from public places, according to the same rules -- old Edwardian rules, as a matter of fact, that Miss Manners is trying to revive -- that are developing in connection with smoking.
Almost every one of you claims to be allergic to perfume. You will forgive Miss Manners if she inquires whether you really mean allergic or are using the term as children do who claim to be allergic to everything they dislike.
Any allergy is unfortunate, and Miss Manners sympathizes and wants to relieve your suffering. She, too, is against "too much perfume," whatever that means. However, one can have an allergy to any perfectly ordinary thing but cannot therefore ban it from public use. Hay fever is an extremely widespread affliction, but we do not want to therefore root out all public greenery.
What Miss Manners learned from this, and a polite person will want to know, is that perfume and other fragrant products are not doing their job of casting a spell on behalf of the wearers. Or at least not the right spell. The number of people, allergic or not, who can't bear those smells is legion. Q I have a question about "male chivalry." I was taught that a real gentleman will always open and close a car door for a lady, but in today's society, how far should this be carried?
Should I always expect this treatment, no matter whether we're off to the courts for a game of tennis (where I won't feel unladylike if I beat him) or headed for an evening at an elegant restaurant?
What about when I go places with males other than my boyfriend -- other friends, my brother, etc.? A Heaven knows what one can expect these days from a real gentleman, besides the ability to lose gracefully at tennis to a lady. One can expect to have car doors opened, but one should also be alert lest one be left behind when everyone else is starting the second set.
However, the charming custom, when it is practiced, is unaffected by what relation one bears to the gentleman, or whether his intentions are romantic or sportsmanlike. No real gentleman alters his manners just because he is dealing with his sister or someone with a better backhand than his.