When Miss Manners read that great numbers of people had been inspired to sign up for cruises by seeing the film "Titanic," she feared that they would be disappointed with the reality.
True, they might not complain if their trips turn out to be less eventful. They might not even indulge in the traditional cruisers' grumble about having to defer their merrymaking until they have been trundled through boat drills.But "Titanic" fans presumably accepted the film's premise that first-class passage for the rich to whom glamorous sea travel is off limits, not because it requires money, but because it requires time. In what may be the new definition of snobbery, they consider it bad form to take time off from working.
We are thus left with the peculiar situation that the same people who are endorsing the cinematic idea that luxury is ruinous of good character, and worse, that it is no fun, are the very ones who have to endure it. Who even pay to endure it.
Miss Manners is happy to report that most of them seem to be accepting this with good grace. With amazing liberality, they are able to seek and enjoy a way of life that they go along with condemning as unworthy and boring.
A smaller person might call this hypocrisy, but Miss Manners sees it as transcending the limits of other people's imaginations. Personally, she can't derive much entertainment from watching car chases, but she doesn't suppose that those who do are therefore honor-bound to endorse or practice reckless driving.
The cruise passengers she worries about are those who are unable to accept that contradiction cheerfully, and instead allow their holidays to be marred by guilt or fear of attempting to counterfeit stereotypical upper-class behavior. Ships' cafeterias - originally meant for passengers who skip an occasional formal meal - have become the haunt of those afraid that they will betray their manners or their ideals by accepting the service in proper dining rooms for which they have already paid.
Knowing the reality of the situation should enable them to relax -and that, the last time Miss Manners checked (which was soon after the invention of the airplane) had become the primary purpose of paying, rather than being paid, to take a sea voyage.
The fear that there is something inherently wrong with accepting service presumes that there is something undignified about giving it - itself a snobbish attitude (and one that 19th century snobs applied to such other service-givers as doctors and lawyers). It is unworthy of true egalitarians.
As for intimidation by service people - snooty service is bad service. Miss Manners may have her quarrels with the occasionally intrusive or corner-cutting approximation of what now passes for formal service, but she admires the spirit in which it is practiced on ships. The ugly practice of some landed restaurants to make customers bribe the help in order to avoid being insulted has no place there, where it is understood that the intention of formal service is to make it easier and more pleasant to eat.
In any case, Titanic did show that the principle of proper dining can be learned in one sentence - use the utensils in order, starting farthest from the plate.
Dear Miss Manners: I love to entertain at home for lunch or afternoon tea but would also like to be asked to the homes of friends and acquaintances who frequently attend. Some do invite me, of course, but several ladies have - instead - brought a small hostess gift. Does this discharge any obligation on their part to reciprocate?
Gentle Reader: Have we gone on the barter system?
And had we done so - over Miss Manners' dead body - do these people think that a box of candy or a bottle of wine is a fair trade for a home-cooked meal?
But it's not the meal they are expected to reciprocate, it is the act of hospitality and friendship. These, being priceless, can only be repaid in kind, or a rough equivalent, such as taking you out. Hostess presents are all very well, but they do not wipe out the debt.