Wouldn't you think that knowing that one has behaved well under trying circumstances would be its own reward? Isn't it enough of a satisfaction, when you have been treated badly, to know that you have nevertheless kept your own dignity and manners?
Don't be silly. Even Miss Manners doesn't expect to palm that one off. Self-admiration is a wonderful thing, but you also want to make people sorry for being nasty to you, and to require them to treat you well.
That is why she has always taken pains to explain that good manners do not mean allowing oneself to be trampled by those who are bad-mannered. The choice is not, as many people seem to suppose, between being a polite victim and turning rude, too, in order to defend oneself.
In fact, she believes that defensive politeness can be infinitely more effective than retaliatory rudeness. One "Why, thank you very much" to the person who tells you you're getting fat is worth more than a dozen "put-downs" in kind, which only serve to prove that you, too, think the personal insult an acceptable social form.
But that system of dealing with rudeness is designed to be used against individuals. One cannot use it effectively against institutions, or the individual representatives of such. The former are impervious to shame, and the latter usually claim they had nothing to do with your problem and weren't even there that day.
Miss Manners is sadly aware that being rude often gets results from offending institutions, when being polite does not.
Several people of her acquaintance have explained to her how to get a hotel room when, as only too commonly happens, you arrive late at night when there is nowhere else to go, and are told by an indifferent clerk that your reservation has been lost or given away.
"Tell him, 'All right, then, I'll sleep in the lobby,' and start taking off your clothes," Miss Manners was told. "Funny thing, they always manage then to find you a room."
Somehow, Miss Manners has never managed to follow these directions. Therefore, she has been several times stranded because no one has bothered to listen to insistence and indignation when they were politely, if firmly, delivered.
And speaking of delivery, Miss Manners spent nearly a week calling to complain that her morning newspaper was not being delivered, without getting any results. A kindhearted circulation department employe finally took pity on her and explained that the system was set up so that little action was taken until the complainer had called several times and could be characterized as irate.
"Do you mean to say," Miss Manners inquired in her wee ladylike voice, "that people who are driven berserk by this system and start screaming are the ones whose problems get solved?"
Indeed, that was what he regretfully meant to say. So Miss Manners asked timidly if he would be so kind as to put her down as having been loud and obscene, and he gallantly promised to do this.
Miss Manners has read of a recommendation for getting out of bureaucratic tangles in departing from foreign countries -- that one stand in the airport and scream until allowed, or perhaps even encouraged, to leave. She has heard countless stories of people yelling so much in stores that they received service -- not because service was due, but because the stores felt that the presence of screaming customers was undesirable.
As much as all this shocks and saddens Miss Manners, it will never lead her to employ rudeness in the cause of combating rudeness. The satisfaction from behaving well does mean something, and she is not willing to give it up.
She wishes, instead, to appeal to the better feelings of those who establish the rules in institutions for handling complaints:
Please, do not teach your public to be rude, by ignoring legitimately stated complaints and producing redress only for those who behave outrageously. The more you reward rudeness in this way, the more rudeness you will get.
Those people Miss Manners described were not congenitally rude -- they admitted to seeming out of control sometimes as an act, when they were not really angry, because they knew that was the only way to get results. Soon all your customers will be behaving like that, because those few who refuse to do so will have gone sadly away, empty-handed.
Q What is the proper mailing address for the nontraditional household?
There is John Jones and Mary Smith, elderly widowed brother and sister who now make their home together. Then there is Betty Brown, widow, and her daughter, Greta Green, divorce', and Greta's daughter by her first marriage, Whitney White, college student. And the list goes on.
We considered wedding invitations addressed to "Occupant" or "To Whom It May Concern," but decided that would be poor taste.
What about a gift that is meant for the whole family, such as a basket of fruit or flowers? Do we send an orange to Betty, an apple to Greta, etc., or the basket to one with a note admonishing her to share like a nice girl?
A Pardon Miss Manners' titter, but do you consider blood relatives living together to be nontraditional households? My, my.
Whether they are traditional, unconventional or positively weird, households of unmarried adults are addressed with the individual names, ladies' names appearing before gentlemen's, and ladies of different generations in order of seniority. When you put all the names on in that fashion, you needn't specify who gets which grape in the fruit basket.