Q: We have taught our 2 1/2-year-old to say "Please," "Thank you" and "You're welcome," but our guests commonly stare at him blankly or say, "Oh, how cute" when he thanks them for a gift, instead of saying, "You're welcome." I've even had people accuse me of "teaching him to go through insincere rituals like a trained seal."
I have no wish to raise my son to be pretentious but had frankly not thought about teaching him these small courtesies until he started using them himself, in imitation of his father and me.
I could ignore this snubbing on the part of my guests, except that it teaches my son to be rude. How can I persuade these people to use common courtesy with my children? Also, how can I get other people's children to be courteous, as I see no way to correct them without offending their parents?
A: While congratulating you on the success of your use of example to teach manners to your son, Miss Manners feels obliged to warn you not to attempt to enlarge your instructional activities in the hope of bringing up your friends and other people's children.
Not only is such an enterprise doomed to failure, but it would provide your son with the unfortunate example of the rudeness of correcting anyone who is not, as he is, under your jurisdiction.
You have to let their rude reactions pass and explain to your son the awful fact of life that not everyone knows how to behave properly. The disillusionment he may feel is nothing to the secret smugness of knowing more than those big people.
However, when your friends question your premises, you may certainly request them not to sabotage your parental authority. Any observations that being polite constitutes pretentiousness, insincerity or mindlessness -- as opposed to that wonderfully sincere, healthy, thoughtful rudeness that they so admire in other children -- should be met with the contempt it deserves.
That is not license to be rude yourself, but merely to state, with freezing politeness, "I'm afraid I disagree with you, but in any case, you will, of course, allow me to bring up my child as I see fit."
This experience should teach you that example is not the only essential child-rearing tool. Many of the complexities of human behavior, including the fact that we should not allow the rudenesses of others to lower our own standards of manners, must be explained.
You do not want your child to think, once he comes under less polite influences than yours, that prevailing behavior may be safely and uncritically followed.
Q: Is it permissible nowadays to include one's title (Miss) in parentheses on one's business card, as I do when signing business letters?
I violently dislike being addressed as "Ms." I handle manuscripts but am not one. What do women do who have given names not indicative of their sex.
A: Allow Miss Manners to offer you a deal. As you know, honorifics generally go on social, but not business cards. But she will grant you an exception for cause (and one to ladies tired of being addressed as "Mr.") provided you remove the violence from your objection to "Ms." It is merely one of the conventional alternatives now, and not something designed to insult you or anyone else.