A comfortable place to live has as many bathrooms as there are people in residence, plus one for guests. It is like the formula for making tea - one for everyone there and one extra for the pot. (This is a comparison Miss Manners suddenly realizes she does not care to continue.) The house will also have twice as many closets, a gymnasium and an indoor parking lot.
Such houses actually exist, although not exactly at all price levels. What astonishes Miss Manners even more than their cost is the other amenities that dream houses now require to accommodate the way the people who can afford to buy them choose to live.It has become obligatory to have an enormous eating area in the kitchen so that nobody has to eat in the dining room and (when we are talking high luxury) a facility for storing and heating food near the bedrooms, so no one has to eat in the kitchen either.
The kitchen is used to entertain guests so they don't have to use the living room. This entertainment now consists of letting the guests watch what used to be the preparations for entertaining guests.
The family doesn't want to use the living room either. Nobody does. It's considered a nice place to have and to furnish but not to live in. Miss Manners suspects that living rooms are now so often done all in white out of some dim memory of bridal white having symbolized the untouched state.
Now there must be a family room to take over the living function of the living room. But that is no longer where you might find the family. Another room has done to the family room what the family room did to the living room.
This one is known as the entertainment center or media room; before that, it was called the computer room or the television room. The name keeps changing because the room's purpose is to house electronic equipment the family must share. First it was the only upstairs telephone, then the television set, then the computer. When the object is no longer a novelty and each inhabitant gets one in his or her bedroom, it moves on to the next luxury.
Right now this room might have the only movie-theater-sized television screen in the house, so it is where the children do their studying. There are at least two other rooms properly fitted up as studies, but those are maintained as separate retreats for the adults who have to share a bedroom, which is no longer a bedroom but a master suite.
Couples used to achieve privacy from each other and the children by going into the bathroom and locking the door until forced to respond to desperate pleas, and Miss Manners might have thought that the affluent would be able to do this all the more easily because they have more bathrooms. But the huge, modern his-or-hers bathrooms have double sinks, such as Miss Manners remembers from her dormitory days, implying that other people are expected to drop in.
Far be it for Miss Manners to suggest that people should eat in their dining rooms, live in their living rooms and be alone in their bathrooms. If they want to show their solidarity with the less fortunate by huddling into a few small rooms above lobby-like spaces they never use, that is surely their privilege.
What does concern her is what the system says about the attitudes of the inhabitants and their guests toward themselves and one another. Much as she likes the old plan, she would have thought that the modernization of the old-style formal house would result in less wasted space and a warmer atmosphere.
Instead, there seems to be more space than ever devoted to pure show. Once, it was just the front parlor that might be saved for company and grand occasions; now it's the dining room as well, and the company has been banished along with the family.
The old plan for a luxury house recognized the need for privacy with a lady's boudoir, a gentleman's study and a children's playroom. But the presumption was that these provided retreats from a robust communal life, rather than a way for the family to lead solitary lives under the same roof.
Miss Manners hears a lot about the new casual ways of living and how much less stiff they are than the old ways. If anyone wants to debate this with her, she'll be sitting in the pristine living room, hoping to see a friendly face.
Dear Miss Manners: My husband was invited to his superior's birthday party, and the invitation was extended to include myself and his 25-year-old daughter. The young lady insists that signing "Love" on our gift card was correct. I feel this is most improper, but I am from a foreign country and was told this is the American way.
Gentle Reader: Only in the sense that it is the way among a scattering of Americans with more good will than sense of dignity, privacy or the law, to go around hugging people they hardly know.
Miss Manners does not advise your husband to declare his family's love for his superior. Let us say that at best, it would be received as peculiar.