by Judith Martin
Miss Manners, you can be assured, is far too much of a lady to be trying to cash in on millennium fever with her new book. She has far more altruistic aims in this follow-up to 1982’s Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.
For those who want to know “why now,” dear Miss Manners’s answer is very simple: “In order to give everyone a dozen years to practice. By the turn of the millennium in 2001, she expects you to be perfectly behaved.” And that is where the wonderful Miss Manners comes in. She is here to explain softly, firmly, pungently—and please don’t contradict her unless you have smelling salts handy to revive her from a swoon—that no, you may not pass out business cards at a social occasion or, good God, business brochures at a funeral, as the nephew of one of her correspondents did. (“Miss Manners tries very hard to believe that no soul is truly lost to the possibility of redemption through etiquette, but she can’t quite manage in the case of a man who sees his grandmother’s funeral as a business opportunity.”)
No, you may not use a wedding or anniversary party as a fund-raising event. No, you may not send out thank-you notes with the words “thank you” printed on the stationery. She explains how to deal with such modern conveniences as answering machines (“Anyone who possesses one should make it behave in a dignified way [no funny messages]”) and fax machines (It is polite to send only what will be likely to be welcome”).
She suggests ways of dealing with unwanted attention, unwanted guests, unwanted advice, unwanted kisses and offers a list of basic phrases with which polite people can brazenly insult one another: I beg your pardon. Pardon me? I believe you are gravely mistaken. And this gentle reader’s favorite: How dare you? A compilation of letters from the socially bewitched, bothered and bewildering, Miss Manners’s guide shows the way to an, ahem, kinder, gentler millennium. (Pharos, $24.95)