What stops Miss Manners from announcing an Etiquette Atrocity of the Week award is not only the dim recollection that she should not be encouraging such activities. Or that she doesn't need to, because they flourish without her assistance.
It is also that there would be a problem determining originality. Every time Miss Manners hears of something that seems to hit a new low in human behavior, others to whom she confides her shock rush to assure her that the offensive activity has already become commonplace.
It seems that the bride who wanted her wedding party to be nude was not joshing poor old gullible Miss Manners, nor had she come up with a new idea. Dozens of gentle readers wrote in to say that they had not only heard of but actually witnessed such events.
When Miss Manners permitted herself to say, in a commentary about intrusive videotaping, that the next thing people would be doing was videotaping mourners at funerals, she soon found out that many people already are. A few pleaded that they were merely using stationary cameras to record eulogies, which softened Miss Manners's hard heart, but many wanted to defend the practice of making a home movie out of it, including recording any poignant weeping.
Changing a baby's pungent diaper in full view of other diners at a restaurant was also defended by those who claimed to have done so themselves, as a result of inadequate restroom changing facilities. Miss Manners was just about to explain gently that while she understood the problem, she did not feel these people had chosen the most socially conscious solution, and was about to ask what would happen if this reasoning were applied to the admitted shortage of public restroom facilities for adults. It had already happened, she found from a news account of how grown men were taking similar action on the streets of New York City.
So it is with great trepidation that Miss Manners pinpoints what seems to her to be the all-time champion Etiquette Atrocity. If people feel moved to defend this example, or report that it is common behavior, she dearly hopes that they will spare her.
She heard of it via a newspaper account of a Georgetown dinner party given in honor of Bruno Bettelheim so that the distinguished psychologist, who had newly settled in Washington, could meet people.
The following dialogue was reported to have taken place:
Guest: "What's your excuse for being here?"
Bettelheim: "I've just moved to this area."
Guest: "How do you like it?"
Bettelheim: "I'm not happy."
Guest: "How old are you?"
Guest: "Well then, you might like to be introduced to my friends at the Society for the Right to Die. Or I could introduce you to my friends in the Hemlock Society."
At this point, the hostess is reported to have changed the subject.
As it turns out, Bettelheim, who committed suicide two weeks later, was already a member of the Hemlock Society. Miss Manners does not presume to analyze his reasons for committing suicide, much less to speculate that it had anything to do with the dinner-party encounter. She acknowledges that he was known to be a blunt talker and that he himself opened the question of his unhappiness.
And then she faints.
One guest at a party suggested to another that he consider killing himself?
Miss Manners is already wary of sharing her shock, because the first person with whom she did so seemed to think that the etiquette problem here was that the guest "was not a close friend of his."
Miss Manners had a relapse. "Oh?" she inquired when she came to. "Do you think it is all right to suggest to close friends that they kill themselves?"
We are not talking here about someone who announced his desire to commit suicide and asked for advice or support. We are talking about someone who only admitted he was unhappy -- to a stranger who had no hesitation about suggesting a solution.
Miss Manners has long been aware that society is full of people who think they know better how other people should live their lives than they do themselves. Those on the receiving end of unsolicited and audacious advice are always reporting instances of being told that they should or should not get married or have children.
In her outrage at such smug intrusiveness, Miss Manners might have been tempted -- before reading of Bettelheim's experience -- to suggest that it would lead to people telling other people when to die.
The man with whom I have been involved and in love for a year-and-a-half forgot my birthday.
Well, not exactly forgot. He was early sending a birthday card (he lives out of state) by about 11 days.
This upset me a great deal. Are all men this forgetful? Does this mean he doesn't love me or care as much as he says he does?
How do I handle it when he calls me? Do I let him know how hurt I was and tell him the real date of my birthday, or do I just let it go and feel grateful that I at least got a birthday card?
Why don't you pout, sulk or rage -- depending on your preferred dramatic style when heartlessly made to suffer -- until the gentleman is made to feel that planning ahead to mark your birthday is an insult causing you horrendous emotional damage?
This would save you the burden of suffering another early birthday card from him next year.
You would also save Miss Manners from the temptation of tracking him down and warning him that over-concern with how one is treated on one's birthday is a reliable danger signal that should be studied in courtship more carefully than simple facts such as dates.