Being a good loser isn't hard if what you've lost at is tennis or shuffleboard. All you have to restrain is the impulse to blame physical conditions -- the sun, the court, the equipment.
Losing at charades or Trivial Pursuit is more perilous to manners, because the impulse is to blame the winners. "Of course you had me at a disadvantage -- I don't waste my time seeing stupid old movies on television."
Losing weight, Miss Manners has noticed, encourages people to go heavy on the faults of the rest of the world. Rather than just enjoying the fact that they have succeeded in meeting supposed standards of normality that everyone else has failed, they go around blaming others for not having done what they did.
But the hardest things of all to lose gracefully are one's eyeglasses, car keys or engagement book. The most polite people, those who graciously tolerate all manner of faults in their fellow creatures, turn really mean then.
They snap at others out of the sheer frustration of having nobody but themselves to blame. When you can reasonably blame others, it is easier to restrain yourself from doing so.
Losing something belongs in a category with biting one's own tongue or walking barefooted into a chair leg. It hurts like crazy and it makes one feel like a fool, but there are no scapegoats.
How unseemly it is, therefore, but how common, for the losers to scatter blame like buckshot on everyone within range. There is nothing like feeling stupid for inspiring bellicose accusations near and wide.
Some people begin by attacking members of their families; others start with the cleaning help. Employes are more vulnerable, since the clear suggestion is that they are dishonest, rather than simply mischievous, as relatives are accused of being. But if the employes are absent from the premises, some people blame them first as a minor point of tact to family members who are actually present. Miss Manners gives no credit for such supposed niceties in the mire.
In either case, the idea seems to be to pick on the only people who might be likely to help one find what one lost and to antagonize them out of any desire to be useful.
A person of rare control can sometimes manage to open the campaign with "Has anybody seen my glasses?" rather than "Who took my glasses?"
But restraint vanishes at the traditional answer to either question, which is "Where did you leave them?"
The traditional reply to that is, "If I knew where I left them, I'd go get them."
The loser's heart is not in this. Even as he says it, he is gathering strength to reply: "I always leave them on my desk, and they're not there. Who was messing around on my desk?" There then follows a tirade about the person who allegedly steals or "cleans up" (the barest euphemism for rampant pillaging of objects nobody could possibly want) one's sacred domain.
At this point, the accused family members stalk off in disgust, the cleaning woman quits or bursts into tears, and the loser goes into a dungeon of isolation. Positions become so firm that when he eventually discovers his glasses in his own coat pocket, he either declines to tell anyone where he found them or continues along the path of nonsensical belligerency by accusing other people of planting them there.
In contrast, the correct demeanor for a person in this position is abject humility.
After the "I lost my glasses" opening, one must carry on about one's own stupidity in so pitiful a way that no one else in the household can comfortably ignore the wailing.
One then submits to their questioning -- not only answering "Where did you leave them?" with "Well, I thought I had left them . . ." but humbly replying to "Where did you last have them?" "Could you have put them in the hamper with the laundry?" and so on. It is difficult, as these questions increasingly suggest the activities of a moron, to remain humble, but it is necessary. Once you abandon the posture of stupidity, you lose that patronizing but useful sympathy.
Whoever finds the object, the loser must thank everyone who searched. Since he has never allowed himself to suggest malevolence, he need apologize only for taking their time.
Admittedly, such humility is an emotionally uncomfortable posture for any self-respecting human being. But the choice is between being a pathetic fool and an aggressively rude one, and Miss Manners assures you that the former is more easily forgotten.
Q. What should I have done with pa te' when it was served in a flat block with no knife? Bread was also served, but it was awkward to put it on the bread without a dinner knife, which was what we resorted to. There was a sauce on it too.
A. Miss Manners finds it peculiar that the victims of mis-set tables tend to blame themselves. People who are deprived of the proper eating equipment generally call on her resourcefulness with guilt-edged timidity.
Of course, you should have been given a proper knife with which to spread your pa te' on small pieces of bread. Some people eat their pa te' straight, with a fork, but those who don't like liver paste sticking to the roofs of their mouths shouldn't have to.
At a restaurant, you should ask for what you need. If more people did that, restaurants might learn to set their tables properly. In someone's house, where you should not call attention to a mistake, you were right to use the knife at hand. You are to be congratulated, not reprimanded, for "making do" with available tools.
Q. One of the few things that irritate me is to be called "young lady" by someone half my age. I am nearly 70 and feel that no young person can know or understand what I have experienced through all these years.
Let us old persons be respected for our many years of living and surviving -- of coping, working, pain, grief, loss, rejection, disappointment; of love, joy, fulfillment, fun and laughter.
It is only men who use this phrase, including doctors, salesmen and waiters. I have never heard it from a woman.
Please suggest a courteous, effective reply to this discourteous, thoughtless form of address.
A. It is an unfortunate general premise of this society that everyone wants to be young.
Although you have well pointed out the advantages of long life, thoughtless people will continue to believe that you would rather be 18, insecure and ignorant -- and worse, that you will be flattered if they pretend to believe that you are.
An advantage of age that you do not mention is the right to assume superiority of tone. To those whom you see only once, such as salesmen or waiters, you may merely flinch visibly, or you can say coldly, "I beg your pardon." In the voice of a confident dowager, this phrase can be deadly.
As you probably have a longer relationship with your doctor, you set him straight by saying, "My dear young man, have the kindness to indulge your elder and to call me by my proper name." It's the "young man" part that will make the idea hit home.