Miss Manners

February 3, 2009 at 11:44 am (Uncategorized) (, )

Recently, I’ve been reading Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin.  I’d actually been meaning to read this book for some time, but it didn’t occur to me until recently to see if the public library had it.  So I got it on Saturday, and have read probably a quarter of it so far.

It’s a pretty good read.  It’s easy to read a bit and put it down, because it’s very segmented.  And Judith Martin is funny, so it’s pleasant reading.  It certainly beats hanging around on the internet most evenings.  The hardest part about reading the book is that it’s rather heavy, so I have to prop it up on a pillow while I read on the couch.

It’s also been really interesting to think about.  I am, undoubtedly, progressive and liberal.  But I also think that what Judith Martin is trying to do with Miss Manners is extremely important.  Just because society has changed, that doesn’t mean we can throw out every old etiquette rule.  Most of them were created for a real, practical purpose in the past – and many of them are still completely relevant today.

But, and perhaps this is even more to the point, even if I personally didn’t think rules of etiquette were still important, there are undoubtedly a lot of people who do.  For instance, many people would still be a little miffed or even downright offended if someone told them what to get them for their birthday pre-emptively (going back to the rule that you’re not supposed to admit a preference for anything, including wanting presents, unless you are asked, “what do you want for your birthday?” or something similar).

Anyway, it’s been interesting reading this stuff.  I sometimes feel as though it’s like reading an especially well-written manual on correct grammar.  I kind of sort of know all these rules, because I’ve picked up on most of them in part without realizing, but it’s awfully helpful to have someone spell it all out for me.  And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Judith Martin, writing as Miss Manners, has a very amusing way of spelling it out.



  1. Kristan said,

    I’m curious, how old is the book?

    I agree that manners can still be important, but I think they evolve with society over time, just like language and grammar.

    And personally, haha, I’m MORE than happy if someone tells me to buy them something for their bday/the holidays. I mean, as long as it’s within reason. I heart wishlists and gift registries! They just make my life so much easier. And (this is another genuine reason I like them) in a culture of wasteful consumerism, I’d REALLY prefer not to get someone something they don’t want, need, or like.

  2. Mary said,

    The book was first published in the 1980s, and was most recently updated in 2005. So it’s not that old.

    I don’t think I said this in my post (although I’m pretty sure I meant to), but what I like about Judith Martin is that she is re-interpreting strict traditional etiquette to fit with modern society. And she manages to do this without watering it down at all. It’s really very interesting to read about, and very helpful overall. It gives you a guidebook for behavior that won’t offend anyone old-fashioned, or make you look or sound strange to someone more modern. 🙂

    I don’t want to go into it at length here, but navigating social interactions successfully sometimes requires that you do things that don’t make a lot of sense on the surface. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wishlists or registries inherently, but there is something wrong with volunteering that information. It’s fine to point someone to your wishlist or registry if they ask what you want, but it can look pretty bad to tell them how to find your wishlist or where you’re registered out of the blue.

    Besides, Miss Manners says you must express appropriate thanks for every gift you receive, but she never said anything about keeping it. 🙂 Once it’s been given to you, you can do whatever you like with it. Even if that means giving it away or selling it.

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