May I borrow some tape?"
"I hope you don't mind that I used your shampoo."
"Your book? Oh, I'm reading that. You left it lying around, so I thought you'd lost interest."
You might think that people who share their households, their thoughts and their very lives would not mind sharing their trivial possessions.
Miss Manners knows better and fears for the worst when she hears such requests. They seem so modest to the person who makes them. They seem so outrageous to the person who hears them. When these two ideas collide, there is an etiquette explosion.
"What do you mean, 'borrow'? Are you going to give back whatever piece of tape you use? Don't you mean 'May I have,' not 'May I borrow' some tape? Where's your roll? The last time you took mine, you left it with the end stuck to the roll so I had to pry it up with my fingernails in order to use it."
"Why should I mind? Just because every time you use my shampoo, you leave it in your bathroom and don't tell me? I can't tell you how many times I've stood there in the shower, sopping wet and reaching for it, and it isn't there. I have to go out dripping, and when I do find it, it's never with the top on."
"Excuse me, I'm reading that book. Just because I put it down for one minute doesn't mean I've deserted it. Give it back. You have to wait till I'm finished. And I'm finished when I tell you I'm finished, not when you decide I'm finished. I bet you lost my place, didn't you?"
Without defending such snarling, Miss Manners has to admit she understands it. Some people always know where their supplies are because they put them back where they belong. They never run out of what they need, because they replace it before it's used up. When they finish a book, they put it back on the shelf--and the shelf is alphabetized.
Others don't worry about not knowing where or whether they have what they need. Why should they? They know all they have to do is to ask the first type of people.
Miss Manners thought that the argument in favor of couples keeping house together before marriage was that mismatches like these could be discovered before it is too late. And so they are. Then these people get married anyway, because the difference is such a petty one and it's easy to make promises of reform.
Miss Manners doesn't want to ruin couples over this, either, but she won't help save them if it would involve helping to work out what is fair. Fair seems to her to be a much overworked concept in relation to households. Indulgence works so much better.
In the case of finicky people, Miss Manners requires two forms of gracious indulgence toward them, and one from them. The two are that their happy-go-lucky companions not touch their stuff without permission, and that they submit cheerfully to unreasonable demands about handing things back immediately and to unwarranted--or warranted--remarks about their poor records as suppliants.
In return, she expects the finicky people to lend them what they need--grudgingly.
Dear Miss Manners:
Is it necessary to give a gift when you're invited to an announcement-of-an- engagement party? The wedding isn't to take place for another year.
It depends on whom you ask.
There are those who believe that the chickens should turn for advice to the fox, and who therefore consult the restaurant and hotel industries about how much to tip restaurant and hotel employees. If you asked the engaged couple, you might hear that it is not only necessary on this oddly contrived occasion (doesn't announcing that you're going to announce something defeat its purpose?), but that you must give them something they have already selected.
However, you asked Miss Manners, who has no personal stake in the matter, only the mission to uphold propriety.
She can tell you that the only traditional engagement present is the ring that the gentleman gives his fiancee. There is no proper basis for anyone's expecting engagement presents from other people, including those who will have ample opportunity to symbolize their affection by giving wedding presents when the time comes.