Dear Miss Manners:
I've been dating my girlfriend for a few months now and everything is going well. We both enjoy the beach and went together for the first time last month.
To my surprise, she undressed to reveal a thong bikini. I'm sure most men would think I'm nuts, but I was very uncomfortable with her choice of swimwear, especially since you're hard pressed to find any other women wearing one at the beaches we frequent. She would walk to the water and not think twice about it, but I couldn't help noticing the extra attention she was getting from people.
I brought it up with her once and she simply said it was what she has always enjoyed wearing and no one else has had a problem with it, and asked, "Why, don't you think I look good in it?"
That's not the issue at all. Maybe it would be okay at less conservative beaches, but I just don't think it's appropriate swimwear at the family beaches we frequent.
Are there any rules of etiquette dealing with swimwear? How do I bring it up with her without sounding like a snob? Or am I making too much of it?
Different beaches have different standards, as you have noticed, and etiquette only requires refraining from straying too far from them. Thus it would be as wrong to pad around all-but-naked at a family beach as to be swathed in clothes on a nude beach.
But there is an etiquette issue here that you missed. Continuing to criticize the lady's decision -- you had already brought it up -- doesn't make you sound like a snob. It makes you sound like someone who thinks he can dictate to the lady. Not to mention being a nag.
And you certainly don't want to use the point about other men staring at her. It would no longer be an argument about judgment, but one in which she accuses you of insecurity and jealousy.
However, you can state your own taste in the matter, hoping she might like to please you. So your answer to whether she looks good should be, "You're beautiful. It's the suit I don't like." (If you are pressed about why, the polite way to say "vulgar" is "Well, it's not very subtle, is it?")
You must still recognize that the lady retains her own choice about what she wears. Allowing that, you can suggest going to a beach where her choice is not likely to offend people.
Dear Miss Manners:
If you lend a book to someone, and she dies, and the chances are that her relatives don't know she borrowed the book from you and will either keep it for themselves or dispose of it with her other books and belongings, is there any decent way, considering their grief, etc., that you can get the book back?
"Now may I have my book back?" is not a charming request to make of the bereaved, Miss Manners agrees. However, in the course of making a condolence call -- which you ought to do anyway -- you could muse, after other reminiscences, about whether you were able to give her a small pleasure. "I wonder if she was able to finish that book I lent her. Did you happen to see it around?"
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) 2005, Judith Martin