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Dear Miss Manners: How should a woman return a man's handkerchief after she has used it? Apparently no degree of precautionary stuffing of tissues up sleeves or inside blouses completely eliminates the occasional need of a more substantial handkerchief. Being a single man who is in the habit of almost always carrying one of these utilitarian pieces of cloth, I have had many occasions with various women in which I have handed over my handkerchief.
Dear Miss Manners: Sometimes the unflattering appellation "trophy wife" is quietly used to describe a woman who has at last achieved marital status to a wealthy and usually older man. Then there are those who simply "live in," while ostensibly waiting for the marriage invitations. I frankly feel such a person has already been passed over - yes?
Dear Miss Manners: As a striking union member, I'll be returning to work when a settlement is reached with management. I'm uncertain about dealing with those union members who have chosen to cross our line to return to work during the strike. Of course, feelings have run high during this work action. I'll be re-associating with several of these people at my own worksite and at others across the city - including my daughter's teacher. Although I know that rudeness is simply not permitted, I very much do not want to give these colleagues the impression that all is forgotten and forgiven.
Dear Miss Manners: I am a waitress for a country club, and every weekend during spring and summer we have wedding receptions. If I have the time from my other duties, I spend hours taping cards to gifts so the bride can say, "Thanks for the toaster - we really needed it," and not, "Thank you for your gift, whichever it is, as the cards came off most of our gifts." People bring beautiful gifts with cards just tucked under the bow. Because they must be handled two more times - to get it to a car and then home - the cards slip out. Please put your card inside the package or tape it securely. Brides might have an attendant who tapes the cards down, welcomes guests and directs them to the phone and bathroom.
Dear Miss Manners: Certain members of our extended family are beginning to spend most of their leisure time in front of their computers. One cousin asked to be included in family holiday festivities, and then brought his laptop computer and spent all of his time with it - except for meals, I might add. He tried to interest my husband and me in his electronic wonder and wanted us to play computer games with him. Although we are both well-versed in computers and use them daily in our professional lives, we view them as work tools and not as entertainment centers. We have two very small children and our leisure time is taken up by them or with books or music.
Dear Miss Manners: Something peculiar occurs when a gentleman who occasionally takes me out to dinner orders fish or a small bird. He blows the bones into his closed fist, shakes them like dice, then throws them onto the bread plate. Is there anything I could say to him without hurting his feelings to amend the bone behavior? Gentle Reader: How about "Tell me my future"? Miss Manners doesn't want to alarm you, but what you have there is not a gentleman, but an ancient soothsayer. Gentlemen do not cast bits of their dinner around like dice. Dear Miss Manners: What is a "Round the Clock Shower"? A 24-hour marathon of gift giving? I got an invitation stating the time as 2 p.m., but a further notation that "Your time is 1 p.m." Does this mean I am to present myself with gift at 1 and leave before the actual festivities? Gentle Reader: No, no, no. Miss Manners admits that the world is full of barely disguised greed, even that showers, which should be light-hearted events associated with token presents, have taken a nasty turn in the acquisitive direction. But things aren't as bad as you suspect. Showers often have little themes. This one suggests guests bring presents associated with a particular time of day, so that together, the prospective bride is given little things to use around the clock. Yours being 1 p.m., you are presumably expected to bring something associated with lunch time. Or clean-up time, or whatever you suppose the guest of honor might be doing at 1 p.m. This has nothing to do with the arrival time, which is the same for everyone. But as it is 2 p.m., Miss Manners suggests you eat before you go. Dear Miss Manners: My problem with an adorable man is what initially drew me to him: He likes to talk. So do I, but not all the time! I have asked him to allow me to read the morning newspaper in silence, and at first he complied. Now he is busily chatting away again, during my precious quiet time in the morning. Actually, he talks almost all of the time. How can I politely remind him that there are times when I very much need time to read or think. He does not respond to my not-so-subtle body language. Gentle Reader: All right, we will try language-language. But Miss Manners warns you that this has to be subtle, because there is no polite way to say, "Oh, will you please pipe down, for goodness' sake, it's only 8:30 in the morning?" Practice saying, "Hmmmmm." The trick is not to make this sound like either, "Go on, please," or "Let me think this over for a minute." It must sound like "Not only do I have no comprehension of what you said, but I'm in such a fog that there is no use repeating it." But the hmmm-ing itself will have to be repeated often before he understands that it's no use talking to you in the morning, if, in fact, he ever understands. Miss Manners would not go so far as to say that the union of a morning talker and a morning nontalker is impossible, but it takes time. If, after some months of this, you look up from your coffee and see his cheerful face and open mouth, you might want to re-evaluate his adorableness. Dear Miss Manners: I have received verbal invitations to about a dozen graduation parties from my graduating son's dearest friends. How can I balance my desire to attend with the responsibility to the three relatives who will be staying at my home that weekend? Gentle Reader: By finding something more interesting for them to do. Not that Miss Manners imagines anything more interesting than celebrating your son's graduation. Neither do your relatives, which is why they will be there. But you can try offering them theater tickets, for example, or a friend to show them around.
Dear Miss Manners: You invoked "the majesty of the law, which must be respected in order to work at all." Does this apply to the actions of a defense lawyer hosting a large party after a serious crime trial, and calling the guest jury members up on the stage to honor them for their verdict in favor of his client? Is this type of activity by a case lawyer ethical and respectful of the judicial system? What will happen if this type of jury reward is repeated and expanded? Will the judicial system work at all if such activity is permitted?
Dear Miss Manners: I find it disturbing to go to the grocery store and watch my groceries being dumped into the bags as if they were trash. The baggers seem to have no mind when putting the soap next to the ground meat or putting the bread on the bottom of the bag, ending in mush. I constantly worry that the eggs will break or that the cherry stollen will be smashed or ruined. They put the cream with the cereal. I would put it with the other refrigerated items. It happens at department stores, too. I worry that the blouse I bought is getting wrinkled, or that the "wrinkle-free" pants are being twisted and messed up.
Dear Miss Manners: I am a 28-year-old law student who recently found out that my girlfriend was cheating on me. The day after we broke up, she told me she and her new beau were to be married, and afterward, I learned that they had lived together. Two days after they were married, I was diagnosed as probably having the herpes simplex virus (2), a sexually transmitted, incurable condition. I cannot yet be 100 percent positive, but I do have the classic symptoms. I have had the condition for about a year, but due to ignorance, I thought it was something that would go away. When I got the news, my ex was on her honeymoon. So I contacted the parents of the new couple and informed them of my condition so they could warn the new husband that he could very likely be about to get a wedding present that he had not counted on.
Dear Miss Manners: My sister and I have birthdays two days (and two years) apart and because they are in May, the party her adult children throw us (I am widowed with no children) celebrates Mother's Day as well. For the last four years, there has been a sport tournament on television dominating the entire day. No amount of coaxing or planning another day is effective, so we open gifts and eat during commercials and time out. I find this insulting and will not go this year. Do I say why I can't make it? You'll probably say no explanation, but I feel slighted and hurt by what I perceive as sports over the fact that it is my - our - birthday.
Dear Miss Manners: How might a hostess plan a baby shower where the environment is such that no one is tempted to talk about gory labors? I have listened to tales of 52-hour labors, emergency caesareans, episiotomies that never healed and newborns swept off to intensive care who most surely would have died otherwise. And then there are the accounts of women who attempted to breast-feed but their nipples almost fell off because they became so sore. In general, labor stories are just plain boring, but at baby showers they tend to unsettle the guest of honor. A baby shower ought to be a downpour of support and encouragement for the mother-to-be, not an opportunity to tell horror stories. I have been unsuccessful at attempts to change the subject. How do I politely tell these women to shut up? I try to find a moment when I can talk to the mother-to-be alone. I apologize for the stories she has heard and tell her that my own three labors were uncomplicated, that birth is a beautiful, profound experience, and that I wish her well. I tell her that I successfully breast-fed three children, and that if she chooses to breast-feed I hope she will call me if she runs into any difficulties. I tell her that becoming a mother is exciting and rewarding.
Dear Miss Manners: It seems to be a state law here that the parents of each graduating high school senior hold an open house to which they invite every name in their Rolodex. I have been invited to open houses by people whose children I have never actually met. (Invitees can buy their way out with a congratulatory card enclosing a check for $25 or so. When the parents send out a couple of hundred invitations, these can add up to a tidy pile.) When I am invited to a party for a child I have known and been fond of since birth, I go to commemorate the end of an era. Here is what happens: I hand the card and enclosed check to the graduating honoree. He accepts it with a grunt, looking away so as not to make eye contact, and deposits it in a basket. He then eases off to rejoin his friends, and for the rest of the party will studiously avoid social contact with any of the adults present. I have never seen an adult at one of these affairs who looked as if he or she were having a good time. After a couple of hours, one is allowed to leave, unless one is a grandparent, in which case one must stay the entire time.
Dear Miss Manners: What do you do when another woman bends over and you can see the waist of her panties or pantyhose? Do you let her know or keep quiet? I have been noticing this phenomenon more and more. More tops are cut right at the waistline, while more women seem to be wearing highcut briefs. I wonder if they realize how often their underwear shows when they sit down or bend over? This bothers me, and I would like to say something, including suggesting that they consider wearing hipsters, as I do, or not wear pantyhose under pants to avoid the problem. So far I have kept my mouth shut. What should I do? Gentle Reader: You're doing fine. Try to keep containing yourself. Miss Manners takes it that you have not been following the dressmaking news. She herself was catapulted onto the fashion front when she stopped to admire the bridal display in a huge shop window: a tightly laced white corset from the waist of which were attached layers and layers of billowing tulle. "My," said Miss Manners to the fashionable young lady who accompanied her. "This is just what brides used to wear long ago. But why do you suppose they show this by itself in the window, instead of showing the wedding dress over it?" "Because," said the young lady as gently as possible, "it is the wedding dress."
Dear Miss Manners: One of my co-workers regularly listens in on my telephone conversations and comments on them. I do not always object, as the commentary is sometimes helpful or funny. However, when it includes the comment, "That's rude," I do object. This person is a self-appointed social monitor, and "rude" is her favorite word. I have tried ignoring her, directly telling her that calling someone rude is rude, inviting her to look in a thesaurus and dictionary prior to speaking, and having her repeat herself over and over, hoping she will get the message and quit.
Dear Miss Manners: I saw a normal-looking, well-dressed woman weeping in public a few weeks ago. After ascertaining that she was not physically ill, I reluctantly left her to her misery, rather than trying to find out why she was crying. Did I do the right thing? Or should I have inquired into (and, if possible, tried to alleviate) the weeping woman's sorrows? During my adult life, I have seen people crying in public several times, and a few of my friends have had similar experiences. Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is all for compassion, so she wants to give this situation careful thought.
Dear Miss Manners: Not wishing to be an old grouch at a bridal shower (to which, properly, only nearest and dearest friends and family were invited), I consented to participate when it became "game time." I smiled and went through the motions until finally, thankfully, my 85-year-old aunt rebelled, giving me the excuse not to participate in the last games. Is it not enough to sip tea and visit with the other guests until the bride begins opening the gifts so they can ooh and aah? Is conversation such a lost art that hosts believe they are doing the guests favors by requiring that there not be any? When "entertainment" of this sort is sprung on guests, can one gracefully avoid it? Gentle Reader: Although Miss Manners has as little patience for party games as you do - all right, she loathes them - she doesn't find it necessary to account for others' enjoyment by announcing the death of the art of conversation. Some people just like to play silly games once in a while, especially at bridal showers, where such goings-on have picked up a minor aura of tradition. At other times, the same people may be brilliant conversationalists.
Dear Miss Manners: My best friend's 9-year-old son called last night and asked me to contribute on behalf of his karate club to his local children's hospital. Caught off guard and feeling extremely awkward - but not wanting his mother to think I was a cheapskate - I said I would contribute $20, after being forced to name a sum. When his mother got on the phone and I attempted to express my dissatisfaction, she laughed it off and said, "He's quite a little salesman, isn't he?" We spoke for a few more minutes, and then he implored her to get off the phone so he could call some more of her friends and relatives.
Dear Miss Manners: I am not exceptionally tall, but at 6 feet 1 inches, my knees just barely fit behind the seat ahead of me in the cramped arrangements of modern aircraft. It is often impossible for me to lower the tray table and sit in a natural position. The person ahead of me often insists on leaning their seat all the way back as soon as the plane leaves the ground. Do these people not realize that any increase in their personal space can only come at the expense of those around them?
Dear Miss Manners: In a lunch line where one shuffles along, I had ordered soup and the man behind me ordered a sandwich. As I proceeded with soup on tray, he brazenly stepped ahead and, while he waited for his sandwich to be prepared, positioned himself in front of the cash register. A server handed the man his sandwich just before the cashier returned to the register, and she rang up his bill first. Speechless, I stared at him in disbelief, while he stood there humming. Should I have shouted, "Hey! I was here first!" or quietly reached over him to say softly to the cashier, "I was originally ahead of this man, but he broke in line"? As I ate at a table in front of this man, I entertained the thought of pouring my split pea soup down the back of his neck while murmuring a gentle, "Oops! I'm so sorry! It slipped out of my hand," but this seemed a wasteful use of good food.
Dear Miss Manners: When friends of ours returned from a six-month vacation, my husband and I decided to give them a welcome back party and invited about 50 couples, many of whom traveled long distances. A few minutes after the guests of honor arrived, they and another couple proceeded to play cards. At no time during the party did they take a break and socialize with other guests. In fact, they would ask passing guests to get them plates of food from the buffet line and bring them back to them. Some guests complained and quietly left the party.