Dear Miss Manners:
Are there professional situations in which one can be too polite? In recent years, TV and radio journalists have tended to preface their interviews with greetings and conclude them with thanks.
I don't remember Walter Cronkite doing that. Many of the interviewees seem not to know if or how they should respond, resulting in awkward pauses and interruptions. This effort at bonhomie, doubtless designed to re-image the media as kind and caring, seems out of place and distracting in the context.
As a corollary, I have noticed that those who do respond to the interviewer's thank you often do so with their own thank you. This seems to be a trend in society at large. In our effort to be the most deferential, have we abandoned the old-fashioned and, what I was taught to be, proper response: "You're welcome"?
As far back as Miss Manners can remember, which must have been when TV sets had to be hand-cranked, an oddly misplaced form of social manners was being used.
Newscasters and interviewers always called themselves "hosts" and referred to the people they interviewed as "guests." At the same time, the industry was forever talking about itself in terms of "being invited" into the viewers' living rooms (this was before there was a set at every bedside; Miss Manners warned you that it was a long time ago), which would make those hosts the guests of the audience.
So it is not that they are "too polite" (a concept Miss Manners refuses to recognize); they are just confused. Guests are supposed to thank, and, as they are all guests in one way or another, they are all too busy thanking to accept thanks.
Peculiar as this pattern is, it has been used for so long that more businesslike manners on television would now seem too curt. Miss Manners only regrets, as you do, that the confusion has spread to society at large, where it is being forgotten that the courteous answer to the courtesy of thanks is "You're welcome."
In connection with TV programs, saying "you're welcome" would be the job of host-viewers, if they were not all too busy saying, "There must be something else on."
Dear Miss Manners:
Is it ever proper to tuck one's napkin under one's chin?
Technically, no. If you are dexterous enough to secure the napkin in such a way that it does the job of covering your chest, you are too old to be wearing a bib.
There is, of course, an exception in cases of physical disability. However, Miss Manners does not agree with the common opinion that eating lobster for dinner counts as a disability.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c)2002, Judith Martin