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Miss Manners: Keep jacket buttoned during interviews

FRIDAY, DEC. 10, 2010

DEAR MISS MANNERS – Is it proper for a lady to button or unbutton her jacket in a business interview?

GENTLE READER – Madam, please! Make your clothing adjustments before you arrive. You would not want to draw attention, in a job interview, to your chest.

But then again, Miss Manners is presuming that you are applying for a respectable job.

DEAR MISS MANNERS – See, I can use someone’s preferred title, even when I do not prefer it for myself.

Seriously, though, I am becoming increasingly annoyed of late with my social circle, many of whom insist on addressing me, a thirtysomething unmarried woman, as “Miss” – a title I associate with small children and genteel ladies of another generation, such as yourself, who prefer it.

It’s bad enough when I’m given a choice of how their small children should use “Miss” – either with my first or last name – rather than allowed to state my own preference (and always in the children’s presence, when an argument would be in bad form); but I loathe it when women, always other women, who know perfectly well what I prefer insist on addressing envelopes to me with “Miss.”

If pressed into a choice on conversational address, I will accept the common Southern form of “Miss” with a first name because that is given to women of all ages in the South, regardless of marital status.

But is there anything I can do to make known my dislike for “Miss” on envelopes? I’ve thought about misaddressing those who know full well what they are doing as “Ms.” on social invitations to them. (They, of course, prefer “Mrs.” with their first name and last, rather than the correct form of “Mrs.” with their husband’s full name.)

I might feel better at the moment, and if it is mentioned, I could feign ignorance and say, “Really? Let me write down your preference. Good, got it. Here’s how I prefer my invitations addressed.”

But would Miss Manners allow it or think this form of social revenge to be rude? I’d appreciate your help in remaining gracious under pressure.

GENTLE READER – You cannot imagine – evidently – how weary Miss Manners is of hearing idiosyncratic interpretations of female terms of respect: “It makes me feel old,” “It’s disrespectful to my husband,” “My husband doesn’t own me,” and so on.

These are courtesy titles, ladies (and no, please don’t tell Miss Manners how bad “ladies” makes you feel). They are not intended to characterize you, other than as a female who is due respect.

The trouble is that there are too many of them. Uncharacteristically, etiquette has offered a choice. Bad idea. It has only led to squabbling when no insults were intended and declarations of feelings when no such outbursts were required.

Funny – gentlemen just have “Mr.,” and yet most of them manage to open their mail without carrying on about how the envelope makes them feel.

You are right that people should address you as you wish to be addressed, and that it is ridiculously complicated to find out, in each case, how that is. So a lot of tolerance is required when people guess wrong.

Chances are that if the message isn’t insulting, the address is not meant to be, either.

That’s why we prefer standardized etiquette rules, folks.

If you would like a copy of Miss Manners’ newsletters, “On Cellular Phone Courtesy,” “The Etiquette of Proper Eating” or “Proper Wedding Planning,” please send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope and $2 (per newsletter) to Newsletter, PO Box 167, Wicliffe, OH 44092-0167. Please state which newsletter(s) you wish to receive.

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