"This is a mean town. Everybody you meet is always sizing you up, trying to figure what they can get out of you."
Never mind on what vicious geography these bitter words are being spoken with pathetic predictability. What intrigues Miss Manners is who these people are who take such a sad view of society.
They are not the wallflowers you might suppose. They are not quiet souls who cherish hopes of a companionable existence, only to find themselves brutally used -- or scorned when they are found useless -- by the heartlessly ambitious.
Nor are they people who have turned away from sociability, having become disillusioned with what they feel is its smiling deceitfulness.
Rather they are some of the most socially coveted and active people in town. While enjoying popularity beyond any ordinary person's dreams, courted, flattered and pursued, they privately voice this cynical assessment of the social game they feel doomed to play.
Having been a stalwart opponent of socializing-for-success, Miss Manners is prepared to sympathize. Even social lions need petting, without always being required to fetch in order to get it.
But the same people who decry the pseudo-personal attentions of those they can help are also vigorously engaged in the same activity. They spurn the attentions of the professionally useless, reciprocate to those who offer mutually advantageous assistance, and go just as doggedly after the more powerful as the lesser ones go after them.
Even so, tolerant Miss Manners does not doubt their suffering is genuine. She knows only too well that costly trappings are of only moderate help in alleviating social tedium. Boredom may have gotten its name from the skill with which it is able to bore through whatever luxury has been piled on top of it as a disguise.
It seems obvious that what is now called networking -- the pursuit of advantage while holding and dispensing drinks -- will never be as heartwarming as relaxing among congenial souls for the pleasure of it.
When the world-weary respond that they must do this, not so much for their own personal gain as because the success of the enterprises they represent depends upon it, Miss Manners is still prepared to sympathize. She doesn't really believe it -- she believes that if everyone stopped business-partying all at once, the world would go around just as fast -- but she sympathizes. No one should have to work straight through dinner, late evenings and weekends, even on a full stomach.
But there comes a point at which Miss Manners can no longer offer comfort to the hors d'oeuvres victims. That is right after she tries to reassure them that they still have their real friends, the ones who knew them before they were successful, who love them for themselves and who seek no benefit from their friendship except return friendship.
The response is a bit of hemming and puffing, followed by the revelation that they no longer see these people socially. "There is no time," the explanation goes, and, "We have nothing in common any more."
By this definition, having memories in common counts as nothing. But Miss Manners doesn't want to be maudlin and insist on old friends. What about making new ones, with whom one shares private interests and values?
Ah, yes, the time problem. They have no time, they claim, to exercise such rituals of friendship as exchanging visits and presents, sharing holidays and gossip, attending parties and ceremonies. Or rather, they do these things, but with people from whom they want something professionally.
And those people, they complain, do not behave as true friends to them. Miss Manners would not expect them to -- why should they not be equally clearsighted about being valued for their connections and power, and not for themselves?
It stands to reason, Miss Manners would think, that people who are too busy to make friends disinterestedly will not have such friends.
Q: At a dinner party for my niece's engagement, my mother choked on some food, turned blue and collapsed. Our family stood mesmerized in horror.
Fortunately the groom-to-be's mother (a nurse) and another of his relatives (a police officer trained in CPR) went into action. Through use of the Heimlich maneuver and other methods, they dislodged the food and saved her life.
Of course members of the family thanked the two rescuers immediately. I also feel that as a follow-up, to show appreciation, the members of our family should send flowers, a box of fine cookies or candy to the people who saved Mom's life, with a written note of thanks.
Some agree that it would be a gracious gesture, but others feel it would embarrass and humiliate them to receive such a gift for doing an act of humanitarianism.
A: What is their argument? That it would be more gracious to ignore your debt? Or that cookies are an insufficient exchange for your mother's life?
If it is the latter, please explain to them that the key part of your gesture is the written expression of extreme gratitude -- effusive statements about how fortunate you all are to be connected to these people, with an acknowledgment that you can never hope to repay their actions. The treat is merely an accompanying token.
If it is the former, however, please introduce Miss Manners to the groom's family quickly. Just thinking about such an attitude would make her turn blue and collapse.