Are you going to behave yourselves now, or do you want Miss Manners to call in the police.
It is not Miss Manners' custom to resort to such harsh threats. She has always believed that courtesy, kindness and an occasional deadly look with a raised eyebrow are weapons enough with which to regulate ordinary human behavior.
But the issue of smoking has inspired such widespread, unacceptable manners in both smokers and nonsmokers for so long that Miss Manners would be relieved to have regulation of smoking made a matter of law, as many people are suggesting. She is more than ready to turn her attention to more complicated problems.
She is, however, bothered by the idea that this would be a public acknowledgment of the failure of our society to observe elementary rules of etiquette in the interests of peace and harmony. Have we really sunk so low that we cannot practice simple toleration and consideration of others unless required by law?
It would seem so. Miss Manners is hard put to say who is behaving worse: those who insist upon offending other people with their smoke or those who insist that only rudeness and humiliation toward smokers will clear the air.
It is true that the greater burden of consideration ought to be on smokers. Subjecting See MISS MANNERS, H11, Col. 1 other people to the effects of one's pleasures is rude, and Miss Manners hopes that all those filling the air with noise are paying attention. Earphones are a marvelous solution for those who wish to enjoy their own taste in music privately in public, and there is no excuse at all for the broadcasting of foreground or background music in any public area.
But since it was discovered that smoking is bad for the health, nonsmokers, including many ex-smokers, have taken on an air of righteousness that makes their otherwise legitimate objections highly offensive. Minding one's own business is not exactly the strong suit in this society right now, where many people are amazed to find that friends and even strangers are not grateful for unsolicited criticism of their weight, eating and exercise habits, clothes and hair styles.
It is also a great deal easier to settle conflicts on the superficial level of manners than to fight it all out as a matter of morals.
In more civilized times, it was always understood that smoking should not be done in the presence of nonsmokers. There were times and places to smoke, and even smoking jackets, so that smokers could go among nonsmokers afterward without bringing the smell of smoke with them.
In those days, smokers were referred to as "gentlemen" and nonsmokers as "ladies." Gentlemen smoked in their smoking rooms or after the ladies had left the table. If one did wish to smoke in a lady's presence, one asked her permission politely, with the understanding that that permission could easily, and politely, be denied.
No gentleman blew smoke into a lady's face, saying, "If you don't like it, tough." But then, no lady grabbed a cigarette out of a gentleman's mouth, shouting, "I don't care if you kill yourself, pig, but stop polluting my air."
When ladies began smoking, too -- or began smoking openly -- manners were cast aside.
Miss Manners suggests we bring them back.
That means that smokers should generally smoke privately, and that areas should be designated in which they can comfortably do so. It means that if they do want to smoke in front of a nonsmoker they should ask, "Do you mind if I smoke?," and cheerfully accept the reply.
But it also means that that reply, or a request that an already-lit cigarette be extinguished, should be made politely. Rudeness is unacceptable, and it should not be necessary to claim an allergy. One should only need to say, "I'm so sorry, but smoke bothers me."
Miss Manners promises that observation of these simple customs would solve what has become an outrageous problem. Please practice them. Otherwise, she is going to turn the matter over to you-know-who.
Q. After 40 years of marriage, my husband left me for a younger woman. I shall not bother you with the heartaches a divorce brings for an elderly woman, but I don't need the extra hurt I feel each time I get a letter or Christmas card with no "Mrs." or "Ms." in front of my name.
I am a grandmother and suddenly I have become genderless. One does not drop "Mr." when writing to a divorced man.
A. It may not lessen the hurt for you to know that the charmless custom of dropping honorifics for ladies is spreading nearly everywhere, but you should at least realize that it is not confined to divorce's.
The fact is that no two people can agree on how to address businesswomen, married women, divorce's, widows -- has Miss Manners left anyone out?
Yes -- schoolgirls. Schoolgirls, for a short period of time, are about the only people who really like calling one another by their surnames only.
Miss Manners is afraid you will have to instruct people how you wish to be addressed. Put it on the return envelope of your cards, and hope they will notice.