March 18, 2009 in Features

Trivial requests not rude

Judith Martin
 

Dear Miss Manners: I had some of my friends from high school, three girls and a boy, come over to my house for the evening to hang out and have fun. Once the pizza arrived, I put it down on the table and went to take my pre-meal insulin.

My mom realized that there were not enough chairs at the table before I had a chance to get them, so she asked my male friend to help her get one from the closet.

He later said to me, via a text message, so as to not let my mother hear, “Your mom called me over to bring a chair. How impolite is that?”

Although I understand that he was the guest, he was the only male, other than my father, who was upstairs, and myself, who was busy taking insulin, that would be able to assist. Who is in the wrong in this situation?

Gentle Reader: The male guest, for criticizing your mother, and any of the female guests who observed the need for more chairs and did not jump up to help.

Miss Manners first thought that the complaint would be about your mother’s singling out a male for the job, which would have been petty enough. But apparently your friend thinks that any guest should be excused from simple courtesy.

It is true that nowadays, it is appallingly commonplace for guests to be ordered to work, bringing food and cleaning up. But for an older hostess to request trivial assistance, in the absence of the host, from a high school student should have been considering flattering.

Dear Miss Manners: What is the etiquette of yawning?

Gentle Reader: It is very simple: Don’t.

That is not helpful, is it? Only people on airplanes with clogged ears and desperate hosts yawn on purpose.

Other involuntary actions, which Miss Manners does not care to name, are considered merely gross on the part of the, ah, performer. But yawning is considered an insulting sign of boredom. Therefore one should not only cover it with the palm, but attempt to turn it into a cough or a grotesque smile. Others are supposed to pretend not to notice, but if the yawner is caught, the polite thing to say is, “I’m afraid I was up late last night. Please do go on with what you were saying. I find it fascinating.”

Dear Miss Manners: Unfortunately, I am currently unattached and would not want to attend a wedding with a lady I was not serious with. It’s just too romantic an occasion. Is it OK to attend a wedding without a date?

Gentle Reader: Are you suggesting enjoying the wedding for its own sake and then mixing with the other guests?

Radical as that may seem, it is the correct attitude to take – and one, Miss Manners notes, which was often its own reward. Before everyone complained about never being able to meet anyone eligible, weddings were considered a major venue for doing so. And being free to become acquainted with a bridesmaid or the bridegroom’s cousin has more romantic potential than sitting next to a casual date who is bound to be thinking whether or not she would like to be standing at an altar with you.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners @unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.

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