March 10, 2010 in Features

Miss Manners: Husband wins ‘please’ debate

Judith Martin
 

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have had a long-standing discussion on the appropriateness and politeness of the phrases: “Please” and “May I.” I feel that the request “May I have the sugar?” is as polite as “Can you please pass the sugar?” My husband feels that if the request does not contain the word “please” then it’s not polite, and if you use “May I,” you need to tack on the word “Please,” as in, “May I have the sugar, please?” We would enjoy having your thoughts on this debate.

GENTLE READER: – Your husband may enjoy Miss Manners’ thought more than you: He is correct.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How would you deal with a tour guide who is prejudiced against Americans? On a trip to Great Britain, which was great fun, we had one exception – an English tour guide who never ceased to berate our group for all the ills of the world (LOL, including Mrs. Wallis Simpson from years back).

The group as a whole just held its collective breath whenever near her, kept a low profile and endeavored not to be rude. Afterward, there was a discussion as to how to defuse the situation without pushing the offending party off the bus. Any suggestions for next time?

GENTLE READER: Americans are so tolerant of national criticism that Miss Manners doesn’t know whether to commend our good nature or deplore our lack of pride. It is not rude to object to your country’s being insulted.

But she certainly admires the nerve of a British tour guide berating America to American clients. Wallis Simpson! If the guide wanted to discuss royal scandals, Miss Manners can think of a lot more recent ones that the British conducted without any help from us.

One way to handle this would be to take it as teasing and start mentioning those scandals, and perhaps other embarrassments in British history, such as losing at war with the United States. Another would be to say stiffly, “We respect your country, and we would appreciate it if you would return the courtesy.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a live-in nanny, I share a home, and therefore a mailing address with my employers. I greatly appreciated a gift from them and wrote a card thanking them for it, which I mailed.

My boss said that it was silly to mail a card to someone you see regularly.

I was taught that one should always mail thank-you notes, both because it is more formal, and because it gives the recipient the added pleasure of receiving personal mail. Who is right?

GENTLE READER: A great many people now hold your notion, which Miss Manners finds odd. Historically, the opposite was true. Hand delivery was considered the only correct formal way of delivering a message – but that was by people who employed footmen for the task.

When those were in short supply and they had to resort to the public post, they used two envelopes, so that the real message was addressed as before, with only the name of the recipient. And that, dear children, is why two envelopes are used for wedding invitations to this very day.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@ unitedmedia.com.


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