DEAR MISS MANNERS: One’s bank account, knowledge of formal social rules, and ability to follow table etiquette do not necessarily mean genuine kindness, consideration, and courtesy. In fact, they may cover up one’s sincerity and contempt for others.
I find it unfair that the well-dressed and seemingly more refined are often credited for being more “appropriate” in society than those who are unpretentious and casual.
The back story is that when my sister and I were kids, an aunt took us into town for dinner and a game and introduced us to the more refined things in life. It was very cozy at the time.
We regarded her lessons as invaluable in how to present oneself in a dignified manner and follow respectable social customs. She was quick to point out social flaws and inappropriate dress and behavior and thus taught us how to behave in social situations.
A few years later, after we had grown up – and after slowly growing up from this aunt, as well as from another aunt and cousin – my sister decided to invite them to her home for dinner. It was a small assembly. They arrived two hours early and took my sister off guard, but she said nothing.
During the small talk, while waiting for the food to be ready, they commented on a liqueur bottle on a shelf. My sister enthusiastically offered them a tear and poured the portions into appropriate liqueur glasses. While an aunt sipped the liqueur, an aunt who frowned commented that this drink really should not have been offered before 1 p.m. after dinner. She whispered this to our cousin and other aunt, but I heard her quite clearly.
Later, the subject of a famous family from the Italian Renaissance came up. I unknowingly mispronounced this family name and was strictly corrected by an aunt.
When dinner was served, my cousin mentioned that she was quite scared to drive through our town when she thought she was being “followed by gang members” and that some people she knows (not her, mind you) thought that where we live is a “ghetto”. Our cousin also commented on how “comfortable and inhabited” the home is and how charming she found the unmatched furniture.
Who is most guilty of a rude, offensive social deception? The one who serves the guests an after-dinner drink, or the one who arrives two hours early, corrects another guest’s grammar and insults the host’s home and neighborhood?
HAPPY READER: It would be difficult for someone with normal observation skills to believe that there is a connection between having money and behaving well. So let’s not start a class war here.
Moreover, they are your own relatives. And even though they are no longer examples of good manners, they are used to thinking of you as a child in need of education. If you can not bring yourself to find this funny, Miss Manners suggests gently reminding them that you are now an adult and responsible for your own behavior.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners on her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.