Q: In one of your responses, you refer to “unauthorized people who make up their own etiquette rules.”
As with spelling, grammar and a host of other culture-related items, is not etiquette always dynamic, changing over time?
Whom do you believe is “authorized”?
A: You are addressing her.
It is exactly because etiquette evolves that Miss Manners has to act as the impartial judge of which are legitimate changes and which are not. From long experience, she knows that a declaration that something is “no longer expected” — typically answering invitations or writing thanks — simply represents a refusal to comply with the legitimate expectations of others.
Someone has to speak up for those who are nevertheless expected to be generous and hospitable but without acknowledgment or even simple cooperation.
It’s a tough job, and Miss Manners would welcome legitimate help.
Q: My vintage home is for sale. I’ve done a lot of restoration work on it, but some remains.
This morning I heard voices in front and thought it might be potential buyers. I happened to be in the attic, so I went to a window to observe.
What I saw was a couple with a dog that had just urinated in my front yard. The woman then handed the leash to the man and proceeded to strip a handful of berries from one of my shrubs.
I tapped on the window. The woman looked up, said “Hi,” and then made some grumbling remarks about not being able to take the berries, tossing in an insulting remark about the condition of my home as she walked off.
Am I wrong for being a bit upset about this? I did not yell, threaten or make gestures. Just two taps on the window. If she thinks my home looks bad now, imagine the condition if everyone did what they did.
A: Upset? Miss Manners would think you would be overjoyed at the prospect of moving out of the neighborhood.
Q: Once a year, a couple from out of state calls to let my husband and me know that they will be visiting our town and would like to stay with us for a night or two. These are not close friends, and we have no desire to visit them in their state.
They usually show up with a bottle of wine and a token hostess gift. We clean the house thoroughly before they come and usually end up spending a couple hundred dollars at the grocery store for all of the meals we’re expected to provide.
We feel used, but we don’t know how to suggest that they stay in a hotel without being rude. Do you have any advice?
A: That you should learn to say no, or your house will be overrun with solvent squatters. The trick is not to offer any excuse: “I’m so sorry, but we won’t be able to have you here.” Should they be so audacious as to demand why, Miss Manners recommends saying, “I’m afraid it’s just not convenient.”
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.