What do you think of the practice of placing your balled-up paper napkin on your dinner plate when you have finished eating? My husband does this. He has no other faults.
GENTLE READER - Miss Manners thinks that a faultless man deserves a real napkin.DEAR MISS MANNERS - I am perplexed by people who believe they have the right to point out "imperfections," making the recipients think that they have done them a favor by "enlightening" them as to these "facts."
These rude people are more likely to make cracks about children than about adults. They inform children that they are too tall, too short, too thin, too fat; they comment on the children's acne outbreaks, moles, birthmarks, heavy eyeglasses, hearing aids, braces.
A person with one of the above-mentioned "imperfections" is already painfully aware of it and usually cannot change it. Therefore, the comment is not constructive and can only make one more self-conscious.
Anyway, too many Americans are obsessed with appearance, which has nothing to do with the worth of a person. What is the proper height, weight and appearance? What gives these self-proclaimed experts the right to judge?
Our 2-year-old son is an adorable, cheerful, outgoing child who happens to be extra tall, large-boned and muscular in comparison with other children his age. He will likely be at least as tall as his father, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall. My child's doctor has told me that his growth is above the average curve but is proportionate.
In public, we regularly hear: "Wow, is he big for his age!" "He's going to be a football player." "What do you feed that kid?" "It looks as if your parents never feed you." "Look at how fat he is!"
My husband and I fear that these comments will damage our son when he is old enough to understand. What should we say or do when someone makes such a non-constructive remark? I'd like to know how the parents of Refrigerator Perry, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, etc., responded to insensitive people.
GENTLE READER - Miss Manners cannot enlighten you there, but she hopes the answer is "more sensitively than they deserved." It is a cruel world, but she is sure you do not want to teach your child to be cruel in return.
That said, Miss Manners wishes to state her emphatic agreement with your argument. She would only wish to remove from your argument the idea of personal criticism being "constructive" or "non-constructive." Addressing such remarks to matters that can be changed - choice of clothing, for example - does not make them any less intrusive. As you so eloquently state, these are opinions, not facts, and on a subject - appearance - which should not be open for discussion.
In your particular case, oddly enough, the offenders actually wish to compliment your son. Largeness is considered a desirable trait in a gentleman, and they mean their comments to be flattering teasing.
Nevertheless, the comments do fall into the category of Remarking Upon the Obvious, which ought to be stopped. Those people may well be apt to point out to another child that he is what they consider small.
The polite way to respond to unwanted personal remarks, which you can now do on your son's behalf, is "How kind of you to take an interest." The child's version, for when he is old enough, is: "Really? Thank you for telling me."
DEAR MISS MANNERS - My parents will have been married 50 years come this July. After 33 years of marriage, my father divorced my mother; he remarried her two and a half years later.
The entire family has chosen to forget the two and a half years. Especially father. With the proper wording, could we have a 50th celebration?
GENTLE READER - Certainly you can. Did you think etiquette is so nasty-minded as to arrive on this happy occasion with a calculator and chastise the celebrants on a technicality?
Miss Manners cannot even see how the wording of the invitation would have to acknowledge the gap. It is the 50th anniversary of their original wedding date that is being celebrated. And if they want to double their champagne rations by having another celebration on their other wedding anniversary - provided they keep it within the family, but only to avoid trying the patience of their friends - Miss Manners will be happy to toast their happiness then, too.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - I have written a letter to an association that is dedicated to giving assertiveness lessons. Giving up on "Dear Ladies" and "Mesdames," and unable to pluralize "Ms.," I called a friend for help.
The letter has been sent off following her instructions, without salutation or closing. There must be a salutation for feminist organizations that is the unabbreviated form of "Ms." Several women suggested "Dear Sirs."
GENTLE READER - Dear Sirs?
Miss Manners is shocked. But she is hardly less shocked at your disdain for the proper forms, "Ladies" and "Mesdames." She considers it a violation of female self-respect to denigrate terms associated with women and advocate the use of those associated with men. Surely this is the very opposite of feminism.
Miss Manners also finds offensive any suggestion that feminism requires stripping life of its little courtesies. A letter without a salutation is too curt for her taste.
Like "Miss" and "Mrs.," "Ms." is derived from the older and once respectable all-purpose female title, "Mistress." However, she does not recommend addressing respectable people as "Mistresses" nowadays. "Mesdames" or "Ladies" will do just fine.
Planning a wedding? If you need Miss Manners' advice on whom to invite, what to wear, who pays for what, etc., send $2 for her "Weddings for Beginners" pamphlet to: Miss Manners, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 91428, Cleveland, OH 44101-3428.
1991, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.