It is still possible to get away with expressing bigotry if you pick the right target, Miss Manners is sorry to report.

Despite the most important etiquette advance of the 20th century--the realization that respect must be shown to all human beings (buttressed by the knowledge that you can now get into a mess of trouble by insulting people wholesale)--this rule is still violated with impunity. There are cases in which the representative victims who are present are counted upon to assist offenders by laughing at derogatory jokes and buttressing serious slurs.

This must be good news for people who feel severely hampered by the modern ban on vilifying others efficiently, which is popularly--or rather, unpopularly--known as political correctness.

Miss Manners would have thought that the injunction "Hush, don't say that, you'll hurt their feelings" would be universally endorsed, however often flouted. Instead, she finds it has inspired two new categories of rudeness.

We now have people who are bigoted against people who don't like being the target of bigotry. We have other people who believe that bigotry is so pervasive as to render it unnecessary to wait for it to be expressed before taking umbrage.

Miss Manners doesn't care for either approach. But she is hardly less sympathetic to those people who oddly acquiesce in insulting groups to which they obviously belong.

Americans and tourists are some of the worst offenders, and American tourists can hardly contain themselves when given the opportunity to insult themselves.

Oh, yes, Americans are rude, they agree while ignoring the rudeness of those who are insulting them to their (American) faces. It is dreadful how overrun every place is with tourists, they volunteer. Personally, they only go places where there are no tourists, they brag, ignoring the logic problem of this not being possible if they are there.

To those who think any sympathy is wasted on people who have the money to travel around amusing themselves, Miss Manners insists on the unpleasantness of the principle. The disloyalty and self-abasement displayed when people acquiesce in being insulted encourages bigotry as well as rudeness.

Most groups that have been the traditional targets of rudeness have learned this. It is rare that insults based on gender, race, religion or nationality are let pass nowadays.

Miss Manners does not, of course, condone rude responses to rudeness. There are polite ways to shame bigots, from the amazed stare to the lawsuit, depending on the seriousness of the offense. Careless offenders can usually be embarrassed by discovering that their assumptions are not shared--as when people stonily fail to laugh at their jokes or with freezing calmness announce that a remark is offensive.

This is one form of causing embarrassment that etiquette endorses. It is only when people insist upon being rude to themselves that etiquette is helpless.

1999, Judith Martin