Monday 24 June 2013

Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

When Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior was written in the early 1980s, author Judith Martin adopted the persona of a refined lady of the 1880s. This update reveals that Americans are still strangely obsessed by “engraved” invitation cards, and wearing a corsage on the correct wrist. Martin is in favour of being polite, well-mannered, kind and fair, and deprecates bad behaviour of all kinds. Her style is catching, but I will never share her sincere love of “service plates”.

If Miss Manners hears any more contemptuous descriptions of etiquette as being a matter of “knowing which fork to use,” she will run amok with a sharp weapon.

Presence, the dignified precursor of what deteriorated to Poise... and then disappeared into a pottage of Assertiveness and Sensitivity from which it has not yet managed to surface.

“It is what we used to call postmodernism,” she continued, making it sound unattractively dated.

Much as we would love to believe that we saucy and imaginative moderns are responsible for introducing misbehavior into a previously fun-free world, Miss Manners is afraid that the population, even back then, consisted of actual human beings.

First names for parents are in vogue from time to time.

Speaking for someone else is a vile practice.
Are we to have only temporary friends whose experiences happen, at the moment, to match ours?

If it is wrong to make cracks about the elderly, and an aging population is working hard on that, then it should be wrong to make cracks about the young.

It is the meek and mild mannered, polite children that often get bullied. The same children are often at risk for being victimized by adults.

The sensitive child will notice that grown-ups worry endlessly about the judgment of their peers and can be thrown into agonies of embarrassment by trivial transgressions of conventionality.

Miss Manners realizes that parents cannot hope to protect their children for long against outside influences, however nasty.

What pretentious people call “body language” and make fortunes writing paperback books about, Miss Manners considers merely details of etiquette that vary from culture to culture. In a way, it is more important to learn these when going from one society to another than it is to learn the more obvious forms.

People often fail to realize that such behavior as eye contact is learned, and they pounce on it as being psychologically revealing.

The only truly safe and proper subject for a joke is oneself. Many a person who thought this privilege extended to his or her spouse, parent or child, has lived—but not very long—to find otherwise.

You are quite right to seek advice from an etiquette column, rather than a psychologically oriented one. Miss Manners believes that the true value in people is not what is in their murky psyches… but in how they treat one another.

When he cuts off intimacy with you, it is called experiencing a crisis and investigating a relationship, and when you cut off intimacy with him, it is called prudery and eye-for-an-eye revenge.

The other person cares for you more than you care for her. Like you, everyone describes this as being possessive and crazy.

The spontaneous demonstration has, as you recognize, a strict code of behavior.

Reciting to innocent people a list of the sort of behavior to which one has been subjected by others in the past and the declaration of never putting up with it again has become one of the rites of early courtship.

Pickups, to seem respectable, must be contrived to seem accidental.

In the proper world, romance is supposed to develop out of friendship. A gentleman and a lady both pretend that they are cultivating each other for common interests, shared humor or whatever—and then they both act surprised when passion strikes.

Miss Manners had hoped that the plague of social originality among lovers had been stamped out.

Attempts to obfuscate, such as “I love you, but I need room to grow,” don’t fool anyone. The patronizing sweeteners customarily added to these explanations are particularly galling.

A ceremony is not a show, and the emotion connected with it is supposed to be derived from participating in a known ritual, not from being diverted by jokes and surprises. The tendency to undercut ceremonies—which is being done frequently, not just at graduations but at weddings and even funerals—all but directs the participants and audience to be bored.

Now that weddings have become drama festivals, the marriage proposal has turned into a pageant that serves as the curtain raiser.

Miss Manners hopes couples will “plan weddings that will be pretty and festive, but not to attempt to make them grand on a scale unrelated to the rest of their lives”. Weddings are “not an occasion for people to attempt to play grand and unfamiliar parts in a fantasy”.

Perfectly charming people can plan perfectly charming weddings, only to have these events sabotaged by a variety of wedding-related outsiders who have their own ideas of what a wedding should be like and put them into action without asking.

…that nasty double standard which we keep thinking we have banished, only to see it repeatedly hauled out of retirement.

The habit of teasing perfect strangers persists.

If you want something to look at while you listen, you can go to the opera and watch people stab one another.

We still have the old form of naïveté, which says that people should judge everyone on what’s inside, not what they’re wearing.

When the female equivalent of the male suit first began to be widely worn [in the mid-60s], it provoked outrage.

I would rather not wear all of these rings at once for fear that I may be inclined to start calling people “daahhling” and ordering them about.


The further away the title holder is from earning his distinction, the more distinguished he is considered… [Old titles are best.]

It has been perceived that fame leads directly to such fortune-making opportunities as book contracts, lecture fees and photograph sessions in which the subject can keep the jewelry.

When the television people instruct you to be “lively,” “spontaneous,” “controversial” and full of “energy,” what they mean is that you should feel free to ridicule others, interrupt, toss off opinions from the top of your head, argue with cleverness rather than evidence, and display intolerance for any opinion but your own.

Before the first World War, ladies did not put on makeup in public for the sensible reason that they were pretending that they never wore any… In recent times, onlookers revolted against both smoking and grooming at the table... They have therefore been banned by the new school.

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