DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have noticed as I'm sure others do, though they may overlook it - that more and more often, when an employee in a public-oriented or service position makes a boo-boo, that person uses not one calorie to apologize for mishandling the matter. This includes Department of Motor Vehicles employees, county clerks, utility reps and cashiers at the local five-and-dime.
For example, the warm body behind window two at the DMV forgot to return the driver's license I gave her with the extension card and a $5 bill, to request my driving record. I had to go back to get it. She made no attempt whatever to acknowledge her omission or to say anything remotely like an "oops!" or an apology.There seems to be a widespread habit of dissociating a boo-boo from oneself. If I missed the lesson in 1990s attitudes, could you please send me same, so I can fit into the quagmire?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is not giving lessons in the callous behavior currently known as attitude. It seems to her that people are managing to develop this well enough on their own.
But as you have noticed, encountering these attitudes is not pleasant. An "Oops, sorry" and a regretful smile would not have cost that warm body anything and would probably even have produced a sympathetic "Oh, that's all right," perhaps even accompanied by a smile, from you in return. Thus, a mean exchange would have been transformed into a kind moment.
Miss Manners' theory about the cause of such routine rudeness is that people want to distance themselves not only from their own mistakes but from the professional role itself. A ridiculous overemphasis on professional status - as if it were a key to individual worthiness - has resulted in many people actively seeking to show their contempt for their own jobs.
The result is as sad as it is annoying. Miss Manners seems to recall that a widespread American belief in the equal dignity of all honest labor used to demand that one give respect as well as expect to receive it.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - What is the proper way to acknowledge receipt of an unwanted gift - a book on a controversial subject that is slanted toward the view of the giver, not mine?
I have had only a business relationship with the giver, which I hope will soon be concluded. Is this one case where receipt of a gift can be ignored? Or is a note, however terse, required to preserve my reputation as a lady of breeding?
"Dear Daddy Warbucks,
This will acknowledge receipt of `The Wanton Slaughter of Pygmy Rattlesnakes for Use as Cowboy Hatbands.' I'm sure I will find the author's opinions enlightening."
GENTLE READER - If anything could go unacknowledged, it would be an unwanted item of propaganda from a business acquaintance. But even in an age when treasures that are lovingly presented by intimates do not always bring forth the proper letters of thanks, you are correct in assuming you would only seem ill-mannered.
Miss Manners will accept your response if you will replace the business phrase "This will acknowledge receipt of" with the minimal social one "Thank you for sending me." Miss Manners requires letters of thanks for kindly motivated presents to begin more imaginatively, and considers this opening about as abrupt as one can politely get.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our office needs your help in solving a fashion question, having to do with the crocheted loops that hold the belt onto the dress. (We are not talking about belt loops that are thick and made out of the same material as the dress.)
Group A says that the loops stay on the dress and keep the belt on when the dress is worn.
Group B says that the loops are there only to hold the belt on in the store and should be cut off before the dress is worn.
GENTLE READER: Group B is correct. Fastidious ladies always cut off those loops when they get their dresses home. That fastidious ladies are therefore more subject to losing their belts is merely the price one gladly pays for correctness.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was taught that one says, "Thank you for inviting me," or "I enjoyed the evening very much," but one never thanks someone for a meal.
Now I frequently hear, from people who want only to be courteous and appreciative, "Thank you for your delicious dinner."
Am I out of step, and is it all right in this day of fewer and fewer thank-yous to express appreciation in any way that comes naturally?
GENTLE READER: As a matter of fact, thanking itself doesn't come naturally, so Miss Manners admits to being tempted to accept what one gets without quibbling.
But of course you are right. The focus of socializing is supposed to be socializing itself. This is why guests should not announce their food likes and dislikes, hosts should not mention what goes uneaten, and gratitude should be for the event, not the free meal.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We received an invitation to the wedding of the son of casual friends who lived across the street from our house five years ago. We sent a card of congratulations and best wishes, but no gift.
Now, five months after the wedding, we have received a note thanking us "for the beautiful lamp" we "sent" them.
GENTLE READER: Confess. Someone did send the beautiful lamp and should get that letter of thanks.
If you are hesitating because of embarrassment at not sending a present, allow Miss Manners to put your mind at ease. What you did was perfectly proper and needs no apology. You need only repeat your good wishes while alerting the bridal couple that it was not you who sent the lamp.
In a dilemma about giving or receiving presents? Help is available in Miss Manners' "Present-Giving" pamphlet. Send $1.50 to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper, P.O. Box 91428, Cleveland, OH 44101-3428.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions other than through this column.