It is not often that Miss Manners puts down her teacup with a firm rattle and announces that society must be radically restructured.
For one thing, she tends to reach languidly into the past for solutions with a pretty patina on them, rather than grab for the harsh and untried. Although nature keeps humanity from getting bored by giving each generation the delusion that it is the first to have naughty ideas -- and therefore to have the difficulties that come of acting upon them -- the basic human problems have been around for some time.
Another consideration is that Miss Manners prides herself on dealing with the superficialities of life. All the rest of you are so busy advising one another on the deeper matters, whether requested to or not, that she rather has the field to herself.
Every once in a while someone attacks Miss Manners with the accusation that loving humanity is more important than having good table manners, to which she replies, "Yes, dear, you're quite right, but please swallow what's in your mouth before you tell me about it."
However, she occasionally spots a deep cause of superficial bad manners and, tempted to wipe out an entire source of etiquette problems at once, decrees a basic change in the way things are done.
Today's demand has to do with appointments for household repairs. If you consider that of trivial import, you have not waited, lately, to have a dishwasher or heating unit fixed.
The customer makes a request (after having listened for some time to the repair firm's choice of musical selections) and a day is agreed upon. The customer promises to be home then.
Inquiring what time to expect the person who is to save him from floods, freezing or whatever, the customer is told that it is impossible to determine the time. Perhaps he is told it will be morning or afternoon; perhaps not.
On the appointed day, one of several things may happen:
The repairman does not arrive.
The customer decides to sneak out for a short errand and returns to find that the repairman arrived in his absence.
The repairman shows up as promised, but cannot complete the job for some reason and says that another appointment will be necessary.
In all of these cases, the customer, irritable anyway from hanging around waiting, begins shouting insults at the repairman or his or her employer, beginning with slurs on the individual's capabilities, but working up to deploring the state of the country, once filled with honest craftsmen who had pride in their work, but now populated with crooked morons.
The repairman, whose experience it is that every customer is nasty and crazy, might well also indulge in discouraging statements about the population. But out of a combination of ennui and pride, he generally does not shout back, but instead finds a way to sever the business connection. He goes on to another customer, while this one tries to find another repairman, and the entire charade begins again.
There is no dearth of etiquette violations there. Miss Manners could occupy herself forever, just listening to the claims of outrage on either side.
But she believes that the troubles arise from erroneous and outdated assumptions on which these arrangements are still made:
1. That every household has a housewife who spends all day in it, and that her time is completely flexible.
2. That the services of an expert are more valuable than any occupation the person who needs them may have, and the urgency of his demand for them necessitates sacrificing other demands on his time. (Doctors are among the repairmen most guilty of making this assumption.)
If we do away with these mistaken premises, it becomes obvious that we need to establish a different system for making house-call appointments that will be as convenient to the customer as to the roving expert. Working out the details of this is trivial and not a matter of etiquette, so Miss Manners will leave it to others.
Q: I say it is incorrect, or at least in bad form, to combine a title such as Mr., Miss or Dr. with a nickname. To me, it looks particularly awkward in print: Mr. Rick Smith, instead of Mr. Richard Smith, or Miss Debbie Jones, instead of Miss Deborah Jones.
I always use a nickname when introducing myself socially, and yet am surprised to see Mr. Nickname Surname come back to me on an envelope.
A: Why? That's what you sent out, so of course that is what you will get back. How is anybody to know you weren't actually named Rick, if that's what you go around calling yourself?
You expected Miss Manners to agree with you, didn't you? Well, basically she does. Nicknames should be a sign of intimacy and affection, used by those who know one well, not those whom one is meeting for the first time. They are certainly not appropriate for any formal circumstances.
But if nickname usage is to be the privilege of closeness, its owner must be the first to guard it.