Dear Miss Manners:

Perusing the nail polish selection in a discount department store, I noticed a woman in front of a display I wanted to look at; she was dabbing at her nails with what I presumed was a tester. I browsed and waited and waited, and finally realized she was helping herself to a manicure.

When she was satisfied with her job, she replaced the bottle on the rack and moved aside.

I quickly moved in front of the display so I could make a selection, but in a few seconds she was back, said "Excuse me," picked up the bottle and proceeded to do some touch-up. She then again replaced the bottle, oblivious to my pointed looks.

When I found myself behind this woman at the checkout, I was sorely tempted to say something for all to hear ("So, did you decide to buy that color after all?" or "What? You forgot to do your toes!") but kept silent.

Does my silence imply agreement, or lend her false assurance that this is acceptable behavior, or would words be wasted on one so bold as to go back for the touch-up right in front of my nose?

P.S. It was quite a banner day for manners there. In the same aisle, I couldn't help but overhear the strident chatter of two maybe-19s, with one proudly blabbing, "So I said to Rodney, like I'm engaged to Jimmy, and he said uh-uh, an' I said uh-HUH, like here's the ring and he's like oh, [expletive], y'know, and so that's it, butcha know I told Jimmy if we're breakin' up that ring is MINE, I'm keepin' it, really!" Jimmy, small price to pay . . .

Sounds like an average day to Miss Manners: Everybody out to get something or someone.

Like you, she finds grabbiness and greed distasteful. But unlike you, she does not believe that rudeness toward the unsavory is a demonstration of moral superiority--not even to those with wet nails and sticky fingers.

Dear Miss Manners:

My husband and I purchased a nice birthday gift for our son's fiancee. She has stayed with us and she is a lovely girl, but the proper way to sign the card is a thorny one. Since they do not intend to marry until next year, I want to sign our first names. My husband wants to sign "Mom and Dad."

Either one would be a gross violation of tradition.

Miss Manners is not concerned about your choice of nomenclature, either of which is suitable. Nor is she objecting to your anticipating the use of family terms before the wedding.

She is shocked that you are skipping the time-honored tradition of forcing a bride to think of ways to secure the attention of her parents-in-law, either by direct address or by mail, because she is uncertain what they wish to be called and feels awkward addressing them in her childhood terms for her own parents.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.

(C) 1999, Judith Martin