One of the stock villains of polite society is The Bore -- the person who talks endlessly, about anything and nothing, and never gives anyone else a chance.
Miss Manners would now like to say an unkind word about his opposite -- the person who never chatters, answers every question succinctly, and always gives everyone else a chance to talk.
This is the newcomer who says "Yes" when asked if he likes it here, "No" when asked if he has been here before, and "I don't know -- anything" when asked what in town he would like to see.
It is the schoolchild who answers "Nothing special" when asked what courses he enjoys most, "Okay" to describe how school is, and "Whatever" to specify what he likes to do.
It is the visitor who reports that everyone inquired about is "Fine" and, in a great surge of warmth, manages to say: "Everyone here fine, too? Good."
The champions at this manage to accomplish it all while keeping themselves perfectly devoid of any facial expressions. When such a person is not called upon to answer questions, his blank countenance doesn't even focus on other people in the room. It just sinks, hopelessly waiting for the ordeal of civility to be over.
You would think that society, which complains so indignantly about conversation hoggers, would be grateful for an occasional stone wall, in the way that a good follower is prized in a collection of leaders. Here is the chance for even the shyest person to unload every adventure and observation.
And so, when all questions have been exhausted and that great social void is still unfilled, most people try. Parched from lack of success in getting a real conversation going, they begin reciting -- first timely anecdotes, then reminiscences, perhaps jokes, and finally, with desperation, anything that comes to mind. Family secrets or train timetables.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to continue for long with that empty face present. Two or more people who would have no trouble conversing if they were the only ones present find that the extra silent presence is too much of a damper. Even accomplished bores check now and then to see if their listeners are alive; these faces show no such signs.
Miss Manners refuses to excuse the silent ones as being naturally reticent, not in the mood to talk or having nothing at the moment to say. Keeping a conversation going in social circumstances is a sacred obligation for all present, and evading it is rude.
Giving factual answers to questions is not sufficient, and there is no use complaining that the questions were dumb. It seems to be a surprise to such people, but social questions are rarely asked because the questioner is dying to know what is your home town, college major, relatives' state of health, or opinion of the weather we are having.
They are asked in hopes that one will lead to a reasonable topic of discussion. Anyone who does not want to use the question as an opportunity to elaborate on that subject is free to pass after a simple answer -- provided he then offers another topic. "School's fine, but I'm spending every minute I get on the soccer field, and it looks as if we might have a winning team this year."
When someone else is talking enthusiastically, you may be silent on condition that you indicate that you are listening appreciatively. That means grunts, laughter, exclamations and an occasional question, if only "Really?"
And it means that no matter how well the gathering seems to be going without you, you register the proper facial expressions -- interest (eyes open and directed at the speaker), and humor (smile) or sympathy (pursed mouth and raised eyebrows) as long as you are present.
If you can do so while thinking your own thoughts or napping, so much the better. Etiquette doesn't ask the impossible -- that you always have a good time. It only asks you to simulate that state.
Our son is stationed in another country while on tour with the military. A few months ago, he married a wonderful woman and brought her home to meet us. They did not have a festive wedding or reception.
When his tour is up and they come home to start their life as civilians, my husband and I would like to have a reception in their honor. I hope they will then receive the gifts that most young couples get when they marry.
We need to know how to word the invitations so that guests will know that this party is a combination "Welcome Home" and acknowledgment of the marriage.
The only thing wrong with your idea of giving a reception for the young couple is your stated objective.
Miss Manners doesn't suppose you could have skipped that part about hoping to lure wedding presents? Surely you meant to say that your reason was to introduce your new daughter-in-law to your friends and to rejoice that the young couple are home.
In any case, the invitations should read, "In honor of John and his bride, Marie-France," so that people understand that this is their first appearance in town as a couple.
When I was in the supermarket, I saw a lady eating something while she shopped. This something was not paid for yet.
Two of my friends and I believe this is rude. Another friend does not. How do you feel?
Fine, thank you, but not about stealing, which is what this is. A supermarket is not a restaurant where you eat first, and pay as you leave. Anyway, Miss Manners has yet to hear anyone confess the contents of his stomach at the checkout counter.
I've been invited to a baby shower for a woman who is expecting twins. Is it customary and/or expected for a person to give two of whatever gift is selected? I've asked several people, but no one seems to know the answer.
This is one of those rare cases in which custom may be tempered by common sense. While one must acknowledge both babies, it is perfectly possible to do so with one present.
You wouldn't give two booties when there are four feet expected. But you could find something they could use together -- a mobile or music box or double picture frame, for example.