Since the happy day that Miss Manners took a fond leave of her senses and entered her present peculiar profession, sensitive but indignant souls have been complaining to her about their disgusting fellow citizens.
By every mail, she receives reports on who is sickening whom by doing what.
They are not altogether pleasant to read.
But duty is duty, and Miss Manners gives proper attention to each unappetizing description of nose blowings, burps and worse. She then urges restraint on all sides, figuring that if she can encourage one group to employ human sympathy and the other clean handkerchiefs, she will have done something to alleviate the problem.
But lately it seems to Miss Manners that the situation has worsened. There has been a decided drop in the quality, so to speak, of disgusting things being done in public.
No longer are the offenses simply inadvertent physical phenomena, undesired and often unanticipated by their performers. There seems to have been a conscious decision by some -- to the disgust of others -- to liberate from private confines common routines that were traditionally performed out of view.
It constitutes a coming out, as it were, not from the closet but from the bathroom, which has long been considered the proper place for grooming and other bodily housekeeping activities.
Here are a few examples reported to Miss Manners by her Gentle Readers:
"I find it totally obnoxious to work in an office with the smell of fingernail polish, but I have seen secretaries, as well as professional women, polish their nails in the office. I encountered the last straw a few weeks ago, at a first-class live theater. During the intermission, a woman in front of me had the audacity to take out her fingernail polish and paint her nails. I glanced around me, and others were looking at her in disbelief also."
"While we were waiting in a supermarket checkout line, my husband called my attention to a man sitting on the window ledge, cleaning out -- of all things -- his dentures or partial plate. I couldn't look at that too long. What is this world coming to?"
"I belong to a respectable racquet and fitness club, where the members average 40-something, with incomes well above that mark. On the whole, it's a clean club, but there are things I simply can't ignore: women shaving their bodies in the steam room, where others will sit or recline; women and men who wear permeating scents in the exercise areas; people who not only trash the facilities we all must use, but leave their very personal trash all about, and the recent repugnant sight of a woman peppering the locker-room floor (where we all walk barefoot) with her toenail trimmings."
"A co-worker insists on clipping her toenails at her desk."
"The last thing I need on my long trek to the office on public transportation is to hear that endless click-click-click of the clippers, knowing that pieces of someone else's dirty fingernails are flying all over the place and could end up in my lap or, even worse, my eye. Why can't these people conduct their personal grooming at home?"
The chief counter-argument, when one attempts to stuff all these offenders back into their bathrooms and close the doors on them, is lack of time. Their lives are too busy, their time too precious, to allow them to retreat from public view merely to do unattractive things to make themselves attractive to others. Miss Manners notices a little paradox in there somewhere.
Anyway, she does not accept such excuses. If your life is too full to allow going to the bathroom, there is something wrong with the life, not with the concept of bathrooms.
So the offenders go on to argue that as these activities are common, some of them ubiquitous, to humanity, the fastidiousness of hiding them is ridiculous.
As the natural extension of this point of view, large cities are increasingly reporting problems with public urination. Although the counter-argument there contains the legitimate complaint of a scarcity of public bathrooms, it also offers legitimacy to the abandonment of visual privacy.
Miss Manners finds this attitude dangerous, not to mention unattractive. It is not unconnected with the attempt to legitimize nosiness. The person who demands to know whose hair is dyed and whose fingernails have been supplemented invades others' personal privacy with the same argument.
The existence of a backstage area, in which one prepares oneself to go on public view, is as necessary for the dignity of each person's public persona as it is for the sensibilities of the audience.
Many routines performed in order to increase human attractiveness are themselves unsightly. Seen in one's own bathroom mirror, these practices are at least softened through a sympathy and love one cannot expect even of one's intimates, let alone the general public.
Q. Are present-giving afternoons the day after a wedding considered proper? Once again I am facing compulsory attendance at one of these affairs, where the bride gathers friends and family to watch her open all her presents.
It seems to me that this is not only anticlimactic but in extremely poor taste.
My mother-in-law cornered me into it at my own wedding, when I was not so well versed in polite refusals. I cringe every time I think of it, and I'm sure the givers do as well. It embarrasses those who can't afford a big, showy gift.
Please tell people who do this to stop.
A. All right, I will.
Stop it! This instant!
Miss Manners is aware that we now have a society in which the greatest desire of brides, immediately after their weddings, is to unwrap the consumer goods. But she would hardly imagine that they and their families would want to advertise this to their social circles.
Q. When young people write thank-you notes to us, they invariably omit the salutation "dear," simply writing "Jean" if the note is addressed to me, or "Dean and Jean" to my husband and me. This is not an occasional occurrence -- it happens all the time. What is it all about? I was taught that "Dear" preceding the name was correct.
A. Of course this is correct, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, for two reasons.
1. They would be wrong. Miss Manners is, as always, right.
2. They would probably give you some tiresome argument -- such as that they do not, in literal fact, hold you dear -- for removing the pitifully few remaining graces from everyday life.
However crotchety this practice makes Miss Manners, she notices that the young persons you favor actually write you thank-you letters, and duly notes her gratitude for that.
Q. If my teacher has different-colored socks, should I tell her or just ignore it?
A. Miss Manners does not generally have the annoying habit of answering a question with a question, even an essay question. But she gently suggests that your answer is to be found in considering what, should you call the mismatched socks to your teacher's attention during school, she could possibly do about them.