If the farmer and the cowboy should be friends, what about the housewife and the businesswoman? Miss Manners would put it to music if that would help, but she's too busy.

Actually, she isn't. Miss Manners' idea of being busy is having to use her own dimpled knees to get the porch swing going because there is no one around to push it for her. But all the other ladies are locked into a fierce competition over who is busiest, and she doesn't want to feel left out.Why this should be such an issue between housewives and businesswomen that they spend their time scorning one another, Miss Manners cannot imagine. Don't they have anything better to do?

Housewives are asked to give their occupations when out socially and then roundly snubbed. Other ladies who talk to them at all go in for such conversation openers as "What on earth do you do with yourself all day?" and "Aren't you bored?"

As a result, many housewives have been driven to the unseemly defense of declaring how much money they would get if they sold their personal services to their families instead of giving them away. Miss Manners faints dead away when she hears this.

That argument is horrid enough when it comes from divorcing husbands who, having once agreed to split the work of earning the family living and that of sustaining family life, turn around and claim that the latter obviously wasn't worth anything much because they didn't pay for it. Ladies don't need to encourage them.

But although housewives now assume that the attack on them is unprecedented, Miss Manners is old enough to remember how ladies who were doing paid work were charged to their faces with being selfish and worse.

Salaries - such as they were - were considered to be a factor only in the lives of those who had improvident husbands or none at all (the latter condition being viewed as a matter of choice only in the sense that no one must have chosen them). Therefore, the only attraction of working had to be the opportunities and alibis it provided for promiscuity.

The workplace is no longer thought to be that exciting, but there has been a recurrence of slurs nevertheless. Housewives may routinely get the worst of it now that the society has adopted the counter-historical idea that people who work for wages are of higher status than those who preside over their own domains, but they also cast blame.

Whenever a tragedy occurs involving a child who was not under the immediate supervision of his or her mother because of that lady's job, it is open season on the mother in question and, by extension, every other such mother. Never mind who actually perpetrated the particular accident or crime. Never mind the shocking number of children being hurt by their own parents. And never mind that a mother who was with her child every hour of the day or night might inspire matricide.

Therefore, many ladies with jobs have been driven to the unseemly defense of pleading how deprived their families would be if they did not sell their services in the marketplace. Miss Manners doesn't like that version any better than the other one.

She would like to see some sympathy among ladies, who all share the problem of balancing their contributions to their families and in the outside world, however different their solutions. And if sympathy is not possible, Miss Manners would settle for some decorum.

Polite people show other adults the respect of acknowledging - or pretending - that they must know best how to run their own lives. They do not ask insulting questions, make accusations, draw unpleasant morals or offer unsolicited advice. If they haven't yet learned that people who talk about their jobs are among the world's great bores, they at least follow the social custom of addressing people as individuals, not job descriptions.

But mostly, they do not discuss their own or anyone else's personal life in terms of its market value. People who sell their personal attentions do not belong in polite society.

Dear Miss Manners: You appear to excuse rude and obnoxious behavior because a person doesn't happen to be a "morning person."

When we grew up, we were sent back to bed until we could act like a human. It is not acceptable to go around unwashed, to have body odor, or to be uncivil. In my opinion, it is inexcusable to let yourself go until you've had your coffee.

Gentle reader: Miss Manners must not be awake. She thought you said she excused rudeness. Either you or she must be having a nightmare.

Miss Manners never excuses rudeness, at any hour or under any circumstances. What she excuses these people from until they have had their coffee is sociability.

Everybody who is ambulatory is required to say, "Good morning," to pass the sugar when asked, and to reply to comments and questions addressed to them.