The pleas that Miss Manners occasionally issues for assistance in the glorious task of rescuing and spreading the noble cause of etiquette do not always attract the sort of support she had in mind.
First to volunteer are always the avengers. They get Miss Manners's hopes up by joining her in deploring rudeness and triumphantly bringing instances of it to her attention. But then they leap wildly out from behind the cover of politeness and demand to settle the score by being even ruder themselves, in retaliation.
This will not solve the problem of decreasing the amount of rudeness in the world, she keeps wearily having to point out.
Right behind them are the snobs. They profess to be wildly interested in etiquette and seduce Miss Manners into what seem like benevolent discussions of the finer points of civilized behavior. Only then does it develop that their interest is not in rules that will make life pleasanter for everyone, but in rules that they imagine will allow them to parade their superiority over people with less money or fewer social opportunities.
To them Miss Manners has to keep explaining that showing off is in itself a form of rudeness far more serious than failing to be acquainted with the details of formal behavior.
So when people who understand the true purposes of etiquette show up in force to fight the good fight, Miss Manners is ecstatic. She is delighted to welcome to the etiquette honor roll a group of American soldiers who have studied an aspect of the subject that they correctly suppose has hitherto escaped her attention.
Miss Manners's worthy helpers identify themselves as "desert-wise soldiers" currently stationed in Saudi Arabia. "As such," they write, "we are deeply concerned that the military units recently notified of their deployment over here may not know proper desert etiquette.
"Realizing that someone with your sensitivities may not have been exposed to the harsh conditions under which we live, we have taken the liberty of providing you with a list of important desert etiquette rules. We sincerely hope this will help the new soldiers in their transition to our desert way of life."
Miss Manners is honored to yield this space to her colleagues in Saudi Arabia. Here is their proclamation.
"Ten Simple Rules of Military Desert Etiquette:
"1. Don't leave half-drunk, open water bottles. Finish them.
"2. Don't leave dip cups (spittoons) lying around. Empty them.
"3. Never separate a soldier from his or her cot.
"4. Rinse out the wash basin after use. No one wants your soap scum and hairs.
"5. Don't flatulate in closed tents. A professional steps outside.
"6. Never open a new case of MREs just because you don't like any of the meals left in the open box.
"7. Never relieve yourself in the presence of soldiers of the opposite sex. If by accident this happens, always apologize.
"8. Never hog the shower water. Always turn the shower off until you need to rinse.
"9. Always drive on the down dust side of pedestrians. It is very improper to 'dust' walking soldiers.
"10. Be cautious when playing volleyball in boxer shorts."
There now. Miss Manners could hardly have put it better herself.
Q. Is it ever possible to be too polite?
A. When politeness is used to show up other people, it is reclassified as rudeness. Thus it is technically impossible to be too polite.