REVIEW: Minding Miss Manners by Judith Martin
From the most trusted name in advice comes a fresh, contemporary guide to modern manners dilemmas.
Minding Miss Manners: In an Era of Fake Etiquette is a modern guide to modern manners. Facing down the miscreants purveying false etiquette rules (no, you may not wait a year to send a thank-you note for a gift and yes, in an age of social-media-encouraged over-familiarity you can politely refuse to answer nosy questions), Miss Manners guides you through these turbulent times with her timeless wisdom and archly acid wit.
Dear Miss Manners,
My, the world has changed since my childhood of learning etiquette. But now matter how things have changed, been modified, or are even brand new, the need for manners and etiquette has not changed. I agree with you that this shouldn’t be bashing people – for not knowing a fish fork from a pickle fork – to prove your own superiority and heaven knows the need to know the proper way to handle calling cards is a lost art that no one misses. But treating people with courtesy and kindness has never – and hopefully will never – go out of fashion. There can never be too much true politeness.
This book is not in the style once found in Post or Vanderbilt books on the subject. Instead it’s a loose flowing collection of various letters and responses. The letters are from the confused, the concerned, the crass, and the confident. Some are seeking answers to issues they’ve run up against while others are obviously seeking agreement for behavior that ought to make them blush. The witty replies had me laughing and nodding even while the letters sometimes made me wince or want to facepalm or head-desk. Seriously – a bride confronted guests at her reception who hadn’t yet sent a gift and offered to take a check right then? A person notified a friend that they wouldn’t be getting a Christmas card because she only bought 25 this year but here was her gift registry anyway?
I am staggered by the amount of greed coupled with clumsy ways to extort or guilt others into paying for things. The requests for polite ways to nudge those who hadn’t yet given into the demands or ways for bridal couples to shake down their guests even more were horrifying. It used to be just a present and the pleasure of their company that guests provided at a wedding. Now they are expected to pay a sliding scale depending on whether or not they attend the ceremony, the reception, or eat at the reception. One wonders if there is a designated person standing at the hors d’oeuvre table with a list to check off guests who are allowed an appetizer. Are cake slices marked with prices as well?
Dear Miss Manners – I wanted to invite family and friends to our 25th anniversary party, but I can’t afford to pay for everyone’s meal. Is there a tactful way to let them know they’ll need to pay for their own meals?
Gentle Reader – “We want to honor ourselves with a party that we clearly can’t afford, so we are inviting you to pay for it. We will pretend to be your hosts, but if you want anything to eat and drink, you are on your own.”
Dear Miss Manners – What is the importance of thank-you notes?
Gentle Reader – What is the importance of generosity? What is the importance of kindness?
I think the book might have better chapter titles and perhaps an index at the end but the wit and (slight) snark provide pithy answers to those seeking to be mannered and polite in a world of those who aren’t. B