Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.
Miss Manners always found that rather an unsettling phrase. She pictures a mouth like the special little compartment inside the refrigerator door, with a plastic door that snaps down over the butter dish.
But it seemed the proper description of a gentleman who was, in a series of complicated events of a professional nature that also had gracious pseudo-social overtones, doing everything to make himself useful and agreeable.
One could see, as he calmly and charmingly accomplished the myriad of small and large tasks necessary to smooth everyone's way, why he was the trusted favorite of the top executive who employed him and of the company's special visitors. He provided fascinating conversation as easily as quick results when the most trivial services were requested.
The visitor who reported this not only came away in a glow about the event and the company that sponsored it, but wondering whether that particular person might be hired away. It was only when she returned to her own office that she was disillusioned and retrospectively angry.
Another person who poured out charm without dripping butter was engaging a prospective client in a practiced presentation that was going over extremely well. The appeal consisted not only of the expertise that was displayed but the realization that one couldn't help feeling how delightful it would be to work with such a gentleman.
Telling the client to go home and make up his mind was just one of those soft-sell formalities. Obviously, he was already sold. Only what happened when he did go home was that he abruptly changed his mind and decided not to go through with it because he no longer wanted to deal with such a person.
In a third case, the butter-preserver had no immediate business to perform but was pleased to discover, among the guests at a party, a couple whose financial resources and political connections could enhance any number of projects in which she was involved.
Far from showing any excitement over their potential, she merely made a point of being particularly charming to both husband and wife, as the ebb and flow of the party seemed to cast each accidentally her way. If she happened to mention some activities of hers that would benefit from their interest, it was only in response to their polite questions and out of an excess of her own enthusiasm for the causes.
As they went to their car, husband and wife exchanged favorable impressions and the desire to see her again, perhaps to hear more about her work. It was only in the car that they crossed her off their list of people they ever wanted to see again.
What happened? Why did the butter not only melt but dribble unpleasantly over previously fine feelings?
In the first case, the visitor returned to her own office to be told by two secretaries that the method of smoothing out difficulties used by the helpful host had been to call them repeatedly, lacing various demands with unpleasant language about their abilities and personalities.
In the second case, the professional had directed his entire presentation and all his charm toward the gentleman member of the couple who were presenting themselves as potential clients, and the lady complained bitterly afterward that her questions and contributions had been ignored.
In the third case, the couple had both been courted, but it happened that their teen-age son was at the event also and had been the object of scornful remarks and instructions by the lady, who considered all children fair game for free-lance reforming.
In societies where rank is based on birth, every courtier knows not to neglect the feelings of consorts, princelings and ladies- and gentlemen-in-waiting, not to mention mistresses and the masculine equivalent generally called "favorites." Those close to the throne are crucial in influencing the monarch.
We prefer a meritocracy, where individuals rise on their own and are not able to bring others along with them quite so blatantly. Therefore, the family has no professional position and subordinates have only their own job rankings.
Nevertheless, each person has others -- employes, family, friends -- who are not there accidentally but because he wants them there. To neglect or antagonize such people is tantamount to attacking their protector's honor and judgment.
The fact is that, in all the above cases, the person being singled out to be charmed put more weight on the impressions and opinions of someone he or she knew and trusted than on a stranger, however buttery, which is why those charming butter curls melted at the first exposure to heat.
Q: Because of illness, my wife and I are unable to contribute much in the way of financial support to the large, formal wedding our daughter is planning this summer. Since she and her husband-to-be are paying for it, she has had wedding invitations printed stating that she and her fiance cordially request, etc.
I was under the impression that it was the bride's parents who invited guests to attend their daughter's wedding. My wife and I feel hurt and left out. We have not participated in a wedding for some time and would like to know what is proper and if our feelings are justified.
A: Is your daughter running around saying, "Look, you're not forking over, so why should you get your names on the invitation?" If her decision was in any way based on contributions, as if she were selling advertising space in a program, then you are right to be hurt.
However, older bridal couples who have long been living independently of their parents do often give their own weddings, not to defy their parents but because the suggestion that the bride is going from her parents' roof to her husband's seems inappropriate. It is also inappropriate then for the parents to nurse a grudge.