If you are looking for a small, manageable New Year's resolution that doesn't interfere with dinner, Miss Manners may be able to help. Thanks to her Gentle Readers, she is unnecessarily well acquainted with a variety of common habits that should be unlearned for the sake of community harmony.
These are not sinful pleasures, the sacrifice of which would cast a pall on previously exciting lives. They are the little quirks and tics that people hardly realize they have, but are nevertheless stunningly effective at driving others mad.
It is the maddened who report them to Miss Manners. She is warned that if the person in the next cubicle, or in the next seat at the symphony subscription, or at the opposite seat at the dinner table, keeps doing whatever it is, mayhem will follow.
Some cases in point:
"I have a co-worker who constantly, all day long, yawns very loudly. So loudly that you can hear her clear across the office. Some have said she sounds like a dying moose."
"A man in my book club keeps tapping his foot while others talk. We all like him otherwise, but none of us can stand it anymore."
"I work as a teller in a busy bank. One of the other tellers is constantly humming, even while waiting on customers. It is really annoying for everyone who works near her, and the subject has been mentioned several times between other associates and even managers. Some customers have mentioned it, as well, saying 'You must be in a church choir.' She says yes, and goes right on humming."
"Our friends are mostly educated, successful professionals, yet many of them have atrocious table manners. especially that of picking one's teeth in public after a meal in a restaurant."
"One of my colleagues blows his nose while eating in the lunchroom and doesn't wash his hands. Nobody wants to eat when he is in the lunchroom."
"I'm engaged to the perfect man, except for one thing. We can be having a perfectly nice conversation at a perfectly nice dinner, and then he starts pointing his fork at me to emphasize what he's saying. Sometimes his knife. I've been ignoring it, but I'm afraid some day I'll grab the knife away and use it on him."
These reports are accompanied by a confession of reluctance to mention the transgression, other than the occasional ineffective "hint," because it is so trivial. The risk of annoying the annoyer, who can then point out the triviality of the offense, is also a factor.
Miss Manners therefore proposes that a bit of self-examination and control would be in order. If you have observed shudders from those close to you and can trace them to some such habit, you may be able to make a resolution that will contribute to the peace of the world. Or at least that of your colleagues and family.
Dear Miss Manners:A Christmas card I received from a friend included a wedding announcement stating that he got married last February. On the bottom of the wedding announcement, he conveniently let me know where he was registered. Am I obligated to send a gift? Is this a little tacky?
Gentle Reader: Tacky? When he refrained from demanding a Christmas present? Miss Manners is guessing that you missed his birthday as well, and he seems to have been too delicate to point that out.
Presents are properly sent at the volition of the giver, not at the demand of the would-be recipient. How you react to beggars is also up to you.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com—if you promise to use the black or blue-black ink you'll save by writing those thank you, condolence and congratulations letters you owe. © Judith Martin