Would the people who are working so hard to make everyone relax please try to calm down? The rest of us need a break.
Summer is an especially active season for advocates of mandatory relaxation, Miss Manners has observed. Instead of enjoying their leisure, they go around barking "Relax!" at anyone they target as not sufficiently laid-back.
"I made this nice dinner for a group of friends, and I don't have help but I'm very organized, so I have everything ready and out on the deck and it's all quite simple," reported a summertime hostess. "But every time I got up to freshen a drink or pass a snack, someone shouted at me, 'Sit down! Relax, will you?' "
"Not that anyone tried to help, you understand. They just sat there ordering me to relax. Okay, then I did stay down, and after a while someone said, 'So when's dinner?'
"So of course I fed them, and nobody objected, in fact they raved about the food, which made me think I'd made my point.
"But then they all started in about how I should have had a buffet instead of setting the table, and I shouldn't have used plastic plates because I'd have all those dishes to do later, and I didn't need a tablecloth because it would only have to be washed, and why didn't I just buy some ice cream for dessert instead of making a lemon mousse, which I noticed they ate seconds and thirds of. Lots of free advice--'You should take it easy,' 'Why do you go to all this bother?' 'Learn to relax!' and so on.
"Okay, they don't like to entertain, but I love to, so why do my own guests keep criticizing me for doing it?"
A gentleman of Miss Manners's acquaintance who wears a jacket and tie when he goes to work or out socially, partly because he's used to it but also because, as he complains, "Casual is too hard for me," finds himself under physical attack.
"People scream in horror when they see me--'You're wearing a tie!'--as if I'd shown up in a prison jumpsuit. I've had people greet me with 'Relax! Take off your jacket!' instead of 'Hello.' I'm not talking about 'Would you like to take off your jacket?'--this is 'Give me that!' When I don't obey, they lunge at my clothes. I've had men grabbing my jacket collar from the back. And women who have tried to undo my tie--and not for what you'd think, unfortunately--just to get it off, because it's some kind of affront.
"It doesn't even have to be their turf. I've had people walk in my own office and my own home and tell me to take off my tie and relax. Here I am nice enough not to point out that they could make some effort to look decent, and instead they go after me."
The strange part is that the Relaxation Patrol are usually not beachcombers themselves. They don't lie around ruminating or let their children loll. They seem to be regular people who overwork and spend all their spare time exercising or driving their children from one activity to the next. So why are they upset?
Miss Manners even suspects them of intending to be polite. Discounting the rudeness of bossing others around and criticizing their choices, they might believe they are offering a respite to the oppressed.
But the tone is that of drill sergeants giving the commandment "At ease!" And the effect is every bit as charming and peaceful.
Dear Miss Manners:
Our local small-town newspaper printed the following ad (names changed):
"SMITH-JONES WEDDING: Mrs. Smith of town and Mr. Smith (deceased) and Mrs. Jones of nearby town and Mr. Jones (deceased) announce the engagement and wedding of their children Miss Smith and Mr. Jones. The wedding will be this Saturday at home, on the hill. No invitations are being sent. If you wish, bring a dish."
This was a 2 1/2 by 4 1/2, and that was all it said.
My question: Isn't that a bit of an unrefined and clumsy way to announce the engagement and wedding? Also, to bring your own food to a reception? I know that weddings are getting very informal, but this seems offensive to me.
Ordinarily, yes. But notice that two of the hosts are dead. Miss Manners understands how difficult it must be for them to fulfill earthly duties, and would be inclined to cut them a little slack.
Dear Miss Manners:
I've just begun working with another attorney who has to use a wheelchair, and I'm a bit at a loss. I've never had any direct extended dealing with a person who uses one.
On one hand, I have this urge to help, (e.g., to help him pick up things, to open doors, to push the chair along the sidewalk) when he is perfectly capable of doing all those things himself. On the other hand, I have been under the impression that people in wheelchairs don't necessarily want a lot of help unless they need it or ask for it.
Also, if I forget and say something that is clearly wrong, should I apologize or let it slide? For example, I mentioned that he could take an agency vehicle to a meeting, forgetting that, unlike his personal vehicle, the agency cars do not have the special equipment which would allow him to drive himself. He just mumbled something along those lines and changed the subject.
I would ask my colleague his preferences, but I don't know whether he feels I might be skittish about the subject, which I'm not, or whether he doesn't want to address the matter, and I don't want to offend or annoy him one way or another.
I can understand why he may not want to bring up the subject. I myself am HIV-positive, but, because I'm symptom-free and don't want a big deal made over it by people at work, I've never mentioned it. However, unlike me, who has no outward symptoms and can maintain the privacy of my condition, my disadvantaged co-worker can't. Sometimes he needs help, and sometimes another person has to acknowledge that he cannot walk.
What is expected of me? Should I wait for him to ask for help, or should I try to read his mind? How should I proceed?
While it is true that people who use wheelchairs don't necessarily want a lot of help unless they need it or ask for it, neither do people who don't use wheelchairs. It is therefore the general rule merely to inquire, when someone seems to be in immediate need, "Would you like any help with that?"
Otherwise, there is no particular reason for you to bring up the subject. As you know from your own situation, it is both embarrassing and tedious to have a permanent condition of your life be the subject of constant attention. Miss Manners assures you that you needn't worry about a remark that demonstrated that you had forgotten all about it and regarded him as your colleague, rather than your colleague-in-a-wheelchair.