It used to be said that you could always tell an upper class background from a person's manners, especially their table manners.

They would be simply frightful.The premise was that people who were rich enough to have nothing to do with their own children, wouldn't. So while the parents displayed their fine manners at grand dinners and goodness knows where else, the children ate with the servants, picking up their manners and goodness knows what else.

Miss Manners has noticed a few things wrong with this offensive little formula. To begin with, where were those upper class parents supposed to have learned their own manners?

Then there is the odd idea that manners are related to the circumstances of birth, rather than training. It's best not to get Miss Manners started on that mean triumph of snobbery over experience. Suffice it to say that the servants of an aristocratic household would be excellently versed in etiquette.

But mostly, it is a slur on the traditional nanny, who devoted her life to the noble, if doomed, task of teaching children to behave better than their parents. If it is difficult to learn the lesson that one must love and respect one's parents while they set bad examples, it is even harder to teach.

"Yes, I know Mummy likes to smash her champagne glass when she gets hilarious," Nanny would say with a straight face. "But you drink your milk properly and take care where you put your glass."

The modern nanny (or au pair, or housekeeper, or day-care provider) has a different situation. The children still don't eat meals with their parents, but that's because neither parents nor children actually sit down and eat meals; they're too much on the run. And far from wanting to get away from their children, the parents cherish their time together so much that they don't want to dampen it by giving instructions and corrections.

The result, however, is not as different as it should be between aloof, frivolous parents and those who are devoted and overburdened. They all expect an employee to set their children a higher standard of behavior than they are willing to enforce.

Miss Manners is afraid that this is never going to work. The parents may be angels and the employee may be a treasure, but unless they make a team effort, the children are going to be neither.

Working parents are familiar with the orientation session between employee and supervisor, but something funny happens to them on the home front. Maybe this is the sixth nanny they've had, and if she doesn't work out, the family is going to split up fighting over who can more easily take off from work. Perhaps cultural differences make them afraid they might unknowingly offend. Perhaps they think it all goes without saying.

So they often slur over explanations of what they expect - rather a startling omission, considering that this is the most complicated, delicate and important job they will ever hire anyone to do. Child care inevitably deals not only with feeding, clothing and scheduling, but with guidance in morals and manners; so it should not be offensive to go over this in detail with someone who is expected to do a good share of the teaching.

It becomes offensive when this is done without leaving an opening in which the nanny can explain her own ideas and requirements. Anyone competent to do such a job will have opinions about how it should be done, and know that it cannot be done if the employer engages in sabotage. Even such tender sabotage as allowing the children lower standards of behavior when nanny isn't on duty, and calling it relaxation or quality time.

Dear Miss Manners: My charming and bubbly friend, whom I am very fond of, chooses to wear her wedding ring when she is out with me amongst friends and acquaintances at local club gatherings and celebrations. I am a widower, and she is a widow.

I do not wear my wedding ring, and if I may reiterate the marriage vows taken with the ring: "I thee wed, till death do us part."

When we have been referred to as husband and wife, I cautiously explain that we are just friends. Our spouses are both deceased.

All we contemplate is a future of friendly companionship and no more.

Gentle Reader: Really? It seems to Miss Manners that you want to take liberties with this lady. Friendly companionship does not give you jurisdiction over her ring finger.

Explaining that you are not married but are friends does not strike Miss Manners as a major embarrassment. If you think it is, however, the proper way to get that ring off is to persuade her to accept another one.