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Dear Miss Manners: I have a question that is probably as much about psychology as social etiquette: When one receives the graduation announcement of a close friend or relative, is there any social gesture that is required in return to acknowledge the occasion? Or at least receiving the announcement?
The People Who Can't Say No (and there seem to be legions of them, which goes a long way toward explaining telemarketing) have been checking in with Miss Manners about their vacation plans. Frankly, she wouldn't have expected them to have any. She would have thought that People Who Can't Say No would spend their vacations at home, taking care of their dozens of children. But no. They're all planning to spend their discretionary time entertaining or traveling with people they can't bear to have around.
When people claim that of course "nobody really cares about etiquette nowadays," Miss Manners starts waving the etiquette crime news at them. Then it is a good thing for them that she does care about etiquette. Otherwise, she might wave it uncomfortably close to their faces, provoked to near-violence by their choice of the pronoun "nobody" to refer to herself.
Dear Miss Manners: An hour and a half before my daughter's wedding was to have taken place, we were notified by phone that the groom was too ill to make it (due to a severe case of cold feet). The couple is now in counseling to determine the cause of the groom's "cold feet," and my daughter is attempting to come to terms with this devastating rejection. As you well know, this will take an undetermined amount of time, but each claims to love the other and wants to work through the problems. If this is possible they will marry at a later date; if not the relationship will terminate. But in the meantime they are in a state of limbo. What in heaven's name should we do with the gifts and cards at this point? Many of them are still unopened!
Dear Miss Manners: I don't suppose a question like this would be of general interest to your readers, but I have searched unsuccessfully for years to discover the meaning of the visiting card, or calling card, with one or more corners turned up that visitors sent in to the lady of the house, asking to be received. Can you explain the meaning of the turned up corner? I understand the custom goes back even farther than Victorian times, but no one seems to know what it means. Gentle Reader: Miss Manners doesn't mind being the only person who still knows, but it would sadden her to think she was the only one who still cares. Now that she has you, she feels better.
Dear Miss Manners: I attend a jazz festival where I'll be faced with deciding what to do with the shells from the unshelled peanuts I buy. Since they're biodegradable, do I just throw them on the ground and risk someone sitting on them? Maybe I should return them to the bag, but then it's difficult to separate the shelled from the unshelled as I consume them.
Dear Miss Manners: My public high school senior class will be graduating 87 students. I have become very good friends with many of the kids in my class, but I see just about every student in my class every day. After graduation, when I see the few kids I was not that friendly with, how should I react toward them? I will probably continue to see these kids this summer, and over my next few vacations. Should I greet them with a firm handshake and ask them how they are doing? Or possibly just totally ignore their existence, as I have always done prior to graduation? Maybe just a slight nod of the head would suffice.
Don't graduation speakers supply enough merriment to fill a day? Why do members of every graduating class seem to feel that it isn't sufficiently entertaining to sit on folded chairs in the sun or rain for several hours, hear about being the hope of the future and making it a better world, and on top of that, listen to all of their names being read out, one after another, some correctly pronounced? Why do they all feel that the day will soon begin to drag unless they supply some extra fun? It isn't Miss Manners who is brooding on this question, but disgruntled members of these same classes, their relatives and an occasional professor or administrator. Every year, after graduations are enlivened by demonstrations of joy and of protest, by duct-taped messages on top of caps and hiked up gowns, by young parents' displaying their children and older parents' making displays of themselves by cheering and jockeying to photograph their children, some participants complain that the day has been spoiled. Graduation is, they point out, an important ceremonial occasion, and not one huge dormitory party. Miss Manners agrees, and tries to listen sympathetically to the specific complaints.
Dear Miss Manners: I attended a dinner party at which the hostess announced to her guests, whom we had just met, that of our couple, my husband is "by far the more interesting of the two." I was stunned, and merely responded with a sarcastic "Gee, thanks Marie." Everyone laughed.
Dear Miss Manners: My step-father recently divorced my mother, but I have always thought of him as my only father and went to visit him with my sister when I was home. We arrived early and witnessed him ushering a woman out through the garage door, letting us in the front door when she was out of sight. When I asked who she was, he brought her back to introduce her. We were shocked but gracious to this new woman in our father's life. That night, he announced that they were getting married and that he was bringing her with him when he came for my graduation, although she would not be at the actual event.
The well-appointed house is stocked with things that are much too good for anyone in it. Miss Manners isn't making this snobbish judgment. The people who live there are. The same people who bought all that stuff in the first place. The same people who are responsible, through marriage, birth or invitation, for the presence of all those other unworthy people.
Dear Miss Manners: I have a male friend who insists that referring to a woman as having "gray" hair is ungracious and ungentlemanly. He would favor the term "salt and pepper," despite the fact that this woman has silvery light gray hair, not a mixture of black and white. What would be considered a gentle way to refer to a person with graying hair? And how gentlemanly is it to correct a woman in the midst of her conversation and make her appear wrong? Gentle Reader: You have given Miss Manners an excellent example of a backfiring euphemism.
Originality turned out to be a bad idea. Not that Miss Manners would mind occasionally seeing a movie that wasn't based on a movie about making a movie, or going to an experimental theater that tried any experiment other than "Let's see if we can shock them by showing them body parts."
Dear Miss Manners: What is your opinion of couples kissing in public places? I have a distant relative in his 60s, who is living with a much younger woman. The couple seem to feel it necessary to hug and kiss frequently while visiting family and friends, much to the embarrassment of those of us who are forced to watch. The same kind of behavior goes on also in stores or other public places. Does this public display of affection come under the heading of bad manners? Gentle Reader: Yes. It's in a division of Bad Manners called Showing Off, and a sub-division of that called No Two People Have Ever Been So in Love.
'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.
Dear Miss Manners: My husband insists that in a restaurant, a gentleman is supposed to put his napkin over his left knee only. To me this makes no sense. What if he drops something on the other knee? Shouldn't the napkin be totally across one's lap? My sons are confused.
Dear Miss Manners: For the past 15 years, my husband and I have known a couple that we see socially three or four times a year. Upon greeting, they always compliment me effusively on some aspect of my appearance. I am embarrassed by these comments. For one thing, they are often off the mark. They complimented me on my weight when I was gaining. They admired my hairstyle when I have worn it unchanged for several years. They recently complimented me on how dark my hair looked, when I have been lightening it.
Someone was reporting a highway shooting that seemed, and indeed proved, to be fatal. The caller asked for an ambulance, while stating her fear that her husband was dying. "OK," replied the emergency operator.
Dear Miss Manners: When people come to my door selling products or asking for donations - mostly people I have never seen before - I am stuck as to how to politely leave to go get my purse. I am nervous at the thought of letting strangers into my house, because my husband works all day and I am often home with just my baby, but the thought of leaving them on the front porch with a door shut in their face seems very rude. Several of my friends leave the person on the porch and leave the door open. I was wondering if this is the proper way to handle salespeople while I run up the stairs and get my purse.
Dear Miss Manners: Information is now only a mouse click away and e-mail allows for much easier correspondence with friends and loved ones. One invention in particular on the Internet that has caught my eye is digital postcards. If you have not seen these, they are graphics, much like greeting cards, on which you fill in a message, input the e-mail address of the intended recipient and send them along their way. The recipient simply has to click on the file to view an electronic greeting card, complete with your personalized message.