Dear Miss Manners:
We sent our regrets to my husband's business partner's son's wedding because we would be out of the country attending a business meeting. I selected a gift from the couple's bridal registry and had it sent, along with our best wishes for their upcoming marriage.
It seems that our gift was insignificant in the eyes of the groom's father. He confronted my husband at the office and "enlightened" him that we had not spent enough for the wedding gift. According to him, "the going rate for a wedding gift today is $200 to $250, and anything less is out of line."
I was appalled by the conduct of the partner. Should I conclude that the behavior is just another sign of the '90s when people can say anything they want and justify their actions because they are enlightening another person?
Consider yourself enlightened:
You and your husband now know the sort of person with whom he is doing business. Unless they are in the extortion racket, in which case this partner probably makes a valuable contribution, your husband might want to reconsider the arrangement. A businessman who is rude, greedy and given to disseminating blatantly false and self-serving misinformation is not generally considered an asset, even in the '90s, Miss Manners believes.
Dear Miss Manners:
Years ago, when I was raising my children, I did my best to inculcate them with the basic rules of etiquette in the hopes that proper behavior would eventually become automatic. One of these rules was "Always put your napkin in your lap."
In their charming, childish way, they would sometimes protest, "But I never spill food in my lap."
I'm sorry to say that my response usually was something like "That's the rule" or another variation on "Because I said so . . ." It sometimes seemed they did have a point.
Now that they've grown up and it is too late for explanations (although they still do as they were told), I have been pondering the basis for these rules, created to prevent giving offense or, in the case of table manners, possibly causing physical revulsion.
I had a sudden epiphany, in which I realized that since napkins are meant to clean our fingers and lips, especially before using a drinking glass, we are supposed to keep them in our laps to spare others the offense of seeing them after they have been used. I write to you in hopes of verifying my theory.
I missed my chance with my own children, but I'd like to be armed with an undeniably reasonable explanation when my grandchildren come along, in case they care to challenge the rules.
Miss Manners advises you to stick to "That's the rule" and "Because I said so."
You reported that your children, although now grown up, still do as they were told. So why abandon a technique that has proven to work?
Etiquette does have a great many rules designed to spare others discomfort, and they are taught to children by the "How would you feel if . . ." method. But it also has a great many arbitrary rules, which nevertheless have become so much a part of the cultural tradition that defying them is an affront, even if they are not intrinsically offensive.
Why is burping offensive in some cultures but not in others? Why was spitting--and smoking, for that matter--once acceptable in our own, but is now offensive?
So while you are right that a soiled napkin is unappetizing (one reason Miss Manners despises restaurants where a waiter refolds the napkin of someone who is temporarily absent and returns it to the table), your future grandchildren will be quick to ask why they can't keep an unused napkin on the table.
Tell them it's because you and Miss Manners say so.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.