DEAR MISS MANNERS: How soon after a gentleman finishes drinking champagne from a lady's shoe should the lady slip her dainty foot back into her wet shoe?
Reluctantly, Miss Manners admits that no one has actually asked her that. But it is the season for questions about the etiquette of going barefoot and one can hardly blame her for wanting to throw in a glamorous one to make up for the rest.
The usual questions on this subject are querulous and unattractive. People who have been refusing all year to wear every other conventional item of clothing now demand to take off their shoes. Fine. Considering how they've been carrying on about how jackets make them uncomfortable, ties make them uncomfortable, skirts make them uncomfortable, underwear makes them uncomfortable and so on, they should be home in bed anyway.
Carping is equally strenuous on the other side of this issue. If the people who want those complainers to put their shoes back on confined themselves to making the point that barefootedness tramples on most levels of formality, Miss Manners would simply agree. But no, they insist on adding insulting, not to mention unappetizing, speculations about what may be growing on or emanating from exposed feet. Yuck.
Besides, she suspects them of being the very same people who demand that their guests remove their shoes before crossing their thresholds. Having perfected their floors and rugs into an unwalkable state, they feel obliged to contrast this peculiar form of housekeeping with disgusting descriptions of what lies beyond their doors that their guests are bringing along. Some hope to pass themselves off as Japanese, rather than inhospitable westerners, overlooking the fact that it is not a Japanese custom to insult and bully one's guests.
Miss Manners is not taking a stand on either side of this debate, or rather, she has a foot in both camps. (And she is going to stop this kind of talk before she suggests voting with your feet.)
There are indeed places where barefootedness is not only acceptable but practically mandatory. Beach, bed and bath, for example. Contrary to its reputation, etiquette does not always favor formality, and it would be as wrong for Miss Manners to go into your pool wearing high heels (unless she shouted "Whoops" as she entered it involuntarily) as it would be for you to show up barefoot in her drawing room.
Indoor social events require shoes, which is as good a reason as any for declining invitations to parties for which chairs are not provided. Kicking off one's shoes as the evening progresses is a sign of intimacy that should be confined to family and close friends.
Removing one's shoes in public is only permitted it if is undetectable. Those who count on the presence of long tablecloths at dinner and the absence of auditorium lights at performances should remember that they will also require protection when putting those shoes back on. Disappearing under the dinner table or another row in the theater to find them is, Miss Manners regrets to say, noticeable.
As for that question about champagne, Miss Manners supposes that having posed it, she is obliged to answer it. Except that it doesn't really require an answer. By the time the lady is ready to go home the next day, her shoes are dry.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have been sending our teenage niece gifts since she was born. We have never received a thank-you note or a phone call. Instead, her mother writes "thank you" on the back of the checks. Is this acceptable?
GENTLE READER: Apparently it is acceptable to you, as you keep sending more checks.
If Miss Manners were you, she would worry whether it is the presents that are unacceptable. Offerings for which minimal or no thanks are offered are obviously a burden on the recipient. Your niece must dislike receiving checks, because she is unable to muster any expression of enthusiasm for them. Politeness would suggest that you respect her feelings and relieve her of her embarrassment.