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A&E >  Food

Society Presumes Low Class Acts

Judith Martin United Features Sy

‘The napkins quickly became the event’s treasured stuff-in-your-purse souvenir,” stated the glossy report of a swish gala taking place in what is now defined as society.

That is to say, the event was a dinner dance given to honor a designer of the sort of clothes one needs to have if one attends dinner dances in honor of designers of the sort of clothes one needs to have, etc. Miss Manners has always been in awe of this world as a perfectly self-contained economic system.

But she admits to being startled that public commentary, written in an unmistakably admiring tone, noted that the guests were stealing the napkins. An accompanying photograph showed an untouched place setting, still with its fine cloth napkin, especially embroidered with the theme of the occasion. It was identified in the caption as a “hot dinner item.”

Miss Manners has always understood hot items to be goods offered for sale from the back of trucks by suspicious-looking characters who seem to be in a pressing hurry to complete the transaction. She was startled by its referring to items swiped by expensively costumed people out to do honor to someone they admire.

If pilfering were, indeed, the activity of the evening, doesn’t the information belong in a police report, rather than in society news?

Not that Miss Manners means to quibble about what is or is not society. Surely the commercial world has a larger interest in prosecuting shoplifting than the world of mere play. Is it possible that this is what its distinguished members do to one another on their stylish outings? And if not, or at least if everybody present was not involved, haven’t any innocents among the smiling people pictured been insulted, if not libeled?

What shocks Miss Manners most is that she suffers all this debilitating shock alone. Helping oneself to the fixtures now seems to be considered respectable provided it can be classified as collecting souvenirs.

There is another word that has had to be redefined for Miss Manners in its modern sense: souvenirs. She used to think it meant objects that travelers bought when driven to distraction by airport boredom and the realization of being short one present. She could think of no other way of accounting for the idea that snow scenes of state capitols make coveted paperweights.

It has now gone back to its earlier meaning of being a keepsake to stimulate the memory. And our memories are in dire need of help, judging from the photographing, recording and grabbing that goes on all the time now. It seems to Miss Manners that most fancy occasions now suffer from the problem of being significantly altered, not to mention obliterated, by the rush to record them.

She understands that there is also a tremendous interest in owning artifacts that will remind people of the hotel rooms in which they have stayed.

Once that meant lifting ashtrays. Now television sets and lamps are the souvenirs of choice, but the problem of packing them has led travelers to settle for the paltry toiletries that canny hotels offer them as a lure to keep them away from larger heists.

Miss Manners once made a laughing stock out of herself by confessing that she thought these were just to be used while occupying the room, and was insulted by the notion that they were there to satisfy her presumed appetite for theft. Still, she cannot imagine that all ball-goers feel that they have been invited to steal the tableware.

Come to think of it, the honest ones may have been the ones who took the napkins - to put over their faces so as not to be mistaken for anyone who might have taken the forks instead.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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