DEAR MISS MANNERS: My family and I never grew up with dogs or any kind of animal inside our house, partly due to our allergies. So naturally, when we go to a house that does have animals, it makes us a little uncomfortable. I don't want to pet a dog or a cat for fear that I might then touch my eyes or nose and have an allergic reaction.
When I am a guest in the house of someone who has an animal, I feel obligated to pet it because it's considered one of their children.
Is it rude not to pet it at all? If I do pet it, I want to run to the bathroom and wash my hands immediately. Would this be considered rude as well? What do you do when a pet is insistent that you pet it?
I also have a problem with dogs begging for food at the table when I'm trying to enjoy my meal. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. It's not always the allergies that bother me; sometimes I just don't want to pet the animal if it's not well groomed.
GENTLE READER: Hold on there. You say you have to pet these animals because they are like the hosts' children? So, you think you have to pet your hosts' children?
No, no, no. You may be in a position where politeness will require you to express admiration for the children, the pets or both, but that is different. People who cannot express admiration while keeping their hands to themselves are apt to end up in a heap of trouble.
Not that most people mind others' petting their dogs, although the dogs sometimes do. If the pet makes overtures, you certainly have an easy excuse if you back off and plead your allergies (to the host; dogs don't seem to care). People who don't have allergies do it all the time.
It is not necessary, however. You need only say, "I'm afraid I'm not good with dogs, so I prefer to admire him from afar." This also works if people thrust unwelcome babies in your lap, although you must remember to substitute the word "children" for "dogs."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I write on behalf of about a dozen friends and colleagues of all ages who have not taken their husbands' surnames, but who receive mail addressed as, for example, "Mrs. Sean Brown" when the woman's last name is "Stone." We all find it very insulting.
Isn't it proper to inquire what surname a newly married woman will be using? Usually, an inquiry is not even necessary. When my husband and I sent thank you cards to the people who attended our wedding, and "at home" cards to those who did not, his last name was clearly noted as "Brown" and mine as "Stone."
Since a clear majority of women today -- and a significant minority of women I know in their 50s and 60s -- do not take their husbands' surnames, why do some people persist in addressing a woman who, in fact, does not exist? My friends and I look forward to reading your thoughts on this and hope it will spark the writers of etiquette books to update their manuals.
GENTLE READER: For at least the last 20 years, a clear majority of the writers of etiquette manuals have been telling people to address people as they wish to be addressed, warning that there are now several choices and one should pay special attention after weddings and divorces to see which was selected. A significant minority does so.
Miss Manners made up that statistic, of course, but you also made up yours. She merely wishes to make the point that not everyone pays close attention to change. Unless you know that your correspondents' intention is to insult you, you ought to assume that it was inattention to change, rather than meanness, which prompted them. Miss Manners has graciously made that assumption about your inattention to what is actually being written in etiquette manuals.