In honor of the new year, this lesson in manners is addressed to newborn babies.
Miss Manners is aware that there is a shocking rate of illiteracy among such people and will now pause while any infants who find reading this rough going summon the support of an elder.
My, that was quick. One scream and they all came running, didn't they?
What is more, they arrived not only breathlessly eager to wait on you but slobbering with self-blame for not anticipating your need.
One does not have to be long on this earth before discovering that imperiously announced displeasure gets results. You are already looking a bit smug over the principle that these people were put here to cater to your every whim.
Well, my dears, Miss Manners is asking you to abdicate from this position of power. Not right away, of course, but gradually. A great many people try to get through life with this system, applying it not only to parents but to spouses, and the results are disastrous. The definition of love as another person's willingness to put up with anything from you, while expecting nothing in return, is an error -- practically as well as philosophically.
You may not have noticed it yet, but your devoted servants are already beginning to question your tyranny and to dwell guiltily on their own missed comforts. The service is going to decline dramatically no matter what you do. If you ease up gracefully, you will save yourself a lot of tears and them some harsh words they will regret.
This brings us to the first rule of etiquette for family living: Never take family obligations for granted or assume that you needn't show deference with your requests and gratitude when they are met.
The sooner you stop screaming and learn to say, "Honored parent, I am so sorry to disturb your rest, but I find myself in such an agony of discomfort that I wonder if you wouldn't be kind enough to indulge me by consenting to exchange this rather nasty diaper for something less disagreeable," the better. If you can't manage all that, "please" and "thank you," as soon as you are able to lisp out the words, will do.
Closely related to this idea is the second rule of family etiquette, which is that a basic aura of good will and cheerfulness is even more important in the intimacy of the family than elsewhere, not less.
Bluntly put, you are being tolerated -- all right, venerated -- because you are cute. Nature has endowed you with dimpled fingers, wee toes and an adorably pudgy face, because without the gush of foolish fondness these create, no one would stand for your selfishness.
It is a mistake to depend on these advantages for too long. Now is the time to start cultivating a gurgly, smily expression to make the hearth a happy place.
For the same reason, Rule 3 -- observing the conventional niceties at home, as well as for company -- is important. The fact that your parents are right now encouraging you to think that noisy burping is fun is misleading. By the time you have learned spinach-spitting, they will be openly demonstrating disgust at your table manners.
Nevertheless, they may still persist in claiming to love natural, uninhibited behavior and put forth this alleged preference as an excuse for not teaching you the basic rules of society.
Do not be fooled. Indiscriminately expressed natural behavior, which is what you have now -- the screamed command, the belief that all your moods and wishes should be indulged without regard to anybody else's and the absence of control in eating and other bodily functions -- will get you nowhere in this world.
Do not accept any dumb sentimentality they may express about preserving your freedom and innocence. When you are older, do they plan to send you out to hockey fields and baseball diamonds without telling you the rules? If they claim that you need only "be yourself" and do what you feel like out there, you'll be killed.
The same is true of society in general. You have the right to insist that your parents indoctrinate you in the ways of civilization.
Therefore, ask them to take up Miss Manners' task and explain to you Rules 4 through infinity. That is the proper way for parents to be of service to their offspring.
Q. I am in my sixties, a widow for a year and a half, and men kiss my hands. I'm curious as to why. One young man kissed each of my hands five times.
I enjoy men's company very much, because my husband made a hunter and fisherman out of me, and I relate to outdoor people.
A. What you describe seems unrelated to the European custom of hand-kissing, a merely formal salutation in which a gentleman actually kisses the air above the hand of a matron. Repeats and enthusiasm are not permitted.
Your experience sounds very much to Miss Manners as if your fondness of gentlemen is reciprocated.
Q. A close friend of mine has announced her intention of marrying a nice young man. He agrees to this prospect.
Unfortunately, as is all too often the case these days, the young man in question must first sever his legal connection with a previous spouse. Thus, firm arrangements cannot be made for the nuptials.
Can I, as a friend of the betrothed, give her a shower without there being a set wedding day? Is she, in fact, betrothed, since her fiance' is technically wed to another? Should I call the party by some other name? Should I, for heaven's sake, not give a party at all?
The last seems a bit mean-spirited. But one wishes, after all, to do the Right Thing.
A. Miss Manners seems to recall an Edith Wharton story in which a husband who thought his marriage was just fine happened to notice that his wife was wearing another man's engagement ring.
So the situation is not all that new. However, civilized people recognize that a married person cannot be engaged. It was one thing for your friend to inform you that she intends to marry, but it would be quite another for her or you to indulge in the customs and trappings of an engagement.
The right thing is to give your shower between the young man's divorce and the wedding. That period, even if it is only an hour, is the time of engagement.