Time to start the social season. Gentlemen, please remove your baseball caps. Ladies, please remove your, ah, baseball caps. And it might be a good idea if all of you could locate your shoes.
Miss Manners's idea of a social season does not consist of parties given to honor a perfume or an illness, worthy and dressy as those events may be. Neither does it consist of "Why don't we catch a movie?" or "Come on by, I think I've got some pizza in the freezer, and if not, we can order in," comforting and easy as those events may turn out to be.
There is nothing wrong with either of these, except that the first isn't really social, and the second is how you spent the summer season. The onset of autumn is supposed to suggest that one could bestir oneself once in a while and do something more.
Didn't we learn that in school? Summer's end brought the resolve that this school year one would keep up with the assignments and never have to go into a panicked frenzy. Applied to social life, it seems to have the same success rate.
Yet people crave change, which is why we have seasons in the first place. Places with insignificant temperature changes may brag about their perfect climates, but even perfection requires contrast to be appreciated. Theirs, which they may neglect to mention at the time, tend to be hurricanes and earthquakes.
(It is also why we have rules to go with the seasons. The white-shoe season is about to end, and Miss Manners doesn't want any flak about it.)
And it is why we still have two popular styles of entertaining, even if they have deteriorated. We used to have Formal and Informal. Now we have Showing Off and Not Bothering. Showing Off is for weddings, proms, business and fundraising; Not Bothering is for seeing people you really care about for the sheer pleasure of it. Miss Manners finds something wrong with the priorities here.
The argument in favor of not exerting oneself on behalf of family and friends is that it is more casual, comfortable and spontaneous. And she agrees that relaxing among friends is indeed a wonderful thing.
But not when they are so spontaneous that they don't show up when they said they would, or show up when they said they would with people they haven't mentioned. Or so comfortable that they take telephone calls and watch television instead of talking. Or so casual that they forget to reciprocate or they expect their guests to pay.
The basic rules of hospitality remain in effect regardless of the style. And indeed, people are now being as cavalier about formal events as about informal, although that was not the idea.
Discounting rudeness as an advantage that one can enjoy among friends still leaves not dressing up, not making elaborate arrangements and not planning much ahead. Admittedly, these can all be pleasures. But don't people who share them deserve a treat now and then?
Dear Miss Manners:
During the day earlier this summer, I attended an invitation-addressing event for a charity function at the home of a woman in our community. Upon arriving, we walked through the beautifully appointed home to the back yard. We were informed that the hostess "just can't have people in her house" and were directed to sit in the back yard.
Given the importance of the task, I stayed for as long as I could stand the heat and then left. I trust that I behaved appropriately, but was there anything else I could have done?
Added the lady to your list as a beneficiary. If her house is not fit to receive visitors, or if she is not allowed to bring anyone home, she may be in need of charitable assistance. If she doesn't think others are good enough to be in her house, she needs to acquire some charity.
The hostess's announcement eliminated the possibility that she thought, however mistakenly, that the garden would be more pleasing to her guests. So Miss Manners would not have blamed you for saying (in a gracious tone that seemed to blame your delicate constitution), "I'm so sorry, but I'm afraid I'm a bit warm in your lovely garden; I think I'll take my envelopes home, and drop them by when I'm done. Anyone is welcome to join me."
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) 2004, Judith Martin