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Don’t give health a bad name by making bogus claims

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Could we come up with a few more health hazards?

Having replied to what she innocently thought was a routine question on the correct place to deposit one's napkin when one must leave the table in mid-meal (it goes on the chair then, as opposed to the left of the dinner plate when the meal is over), Miss Manners had her attention drawn to the folly of this dangerous practice.Who could know what strangers had sat on that chair before? The napkin might subsequently be used on the lips of the diner! Think of the unknown horrors that might transfer themselves to the unsuspecting person who followed such hazardous advice!

Miss Manners does not feel that this particular transfer bears much thinking. She especially has trouble picturing the route these agents of disease would take. Think of the hazards they would have to overcome to succeed in their unhealthy purpose.

Rather, the concern brings to mind a conversation between two of her great-aunts, long ago, after one reported that her newly married son and daughter-in-law had cleverly furnished their bedroom with secondhand items.

"They bought a used bed?" asked the horrified other great-aunt. "How can you let them do that? The very idea is disgusting. Imagine sleeping on a bed someone else has used. Heaven only knows what awful things they could pick up. It makes me ill just to think of it. I could never imagine doing such a thing."

And so on, until she ran out of breath, if not indignation and waited for the effect of her warning.

The mother of these unsanitary people remained annoyingly unperturbed. Finally, she asked her sophisticated and well-traveled sister, "You ever stay in a hotel?"

Miss Manners doesn't make light of health concerns. She admires people who resolutely assume responsibility for their own health; right up until the moment they run into the inevitable and, knowing that they did everything possible to achieve immortality, start looking for someone to sue.

Nor is she unwilling to assist in adjusting etiquette practices to offer protection from unnecessary exposure. In a world torn between its desire for hygiene and its desire to cover all of its potato chips or carrot sticks with goo, she came up with the solution to the great double dipping problem - dipping first one end, and then the other.

Furthermore, etiquette itself is easygoing about letting people off for medical reasons. People who can't comply with an expected custom need only explain this pleasantly.

But Miss Manners is getting pettish about this excuse being abused, as it so frequently is now, to avoid a duty or to pick a quarrel. Like children who claim to be allergic to what they merely dislike, people are giving health a bad name by making bogus claims.

Even more outrageous is the habit of exaggerating health damage to bolster complaints about rudeness, because this suggests that mere rudeness is acceptable unless it causes discernible physical or mental damage. Noise, smoke and the expression of people's unpleasant feelings should be controlled because they are rude, whether or not they leave bodies lying in the street. Killing civility is damage enough.

Dear Miss Manners: When a fellow guest whips out a camera during a dinner party and turns into Mama or Papa Razzi, it's rather rude, and it ruins the flow. Equally unpleasant is the viewing of a badly composed or OOF (Out of Focus) product about which I need to say something pleasant.

What could I say or do to keep these friends but keep their hands off their cameras?

Gentle reader: Nothing. They do not believe that the unrecorded life is worth living.

Miss Manners suggests you concentrate on protecting yourself. You can go OOF physically by jumping up and saying, "Wait! I've got to go comb my hair!" and staying away until the session is over, and you can go OOF verbally by admiring a proffered photograph with the time-honored formula that inadvertently discourages child artists: "Oh, that's lovely! What is it?"