DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our living room has two large, built-in bookcases, filled with some of our favorite books. (Still others fill up our study.) The first guests to arrive at our parties will occasionally stand near the bookcases and scan the book titles without taking any book from the shelf.
My wife regards such behavior as rude and insists that such persons are probing too deeply into our personal interests. I, on the other hand, figure that the books are visible in the room; we aren't hiding them. For a guest to casually look at the spines of the books is a far cry from probing into someone's bathroom cabinet to see what cosmetics or medications are there.
GENTLE READER: Accustomed as Miss Manners is to denouncing snoops, she is much too atwitter with curiosity to manage doing it here. What on earth are you people reading?
"Swinging with Dick and Jane"?
"Recognizing the Rodents in Your Kitchen"?
And, if so, why don't you tuck them behind Stephen Hawking's "Quest for a Theory of Everything" where no one will ever find them?
People are supposed to talk about books. This is respectable conversation. It is actually fun. Miss Manners knows people who chase around their hapless friends, desperate to make them read their own favorites, and are chased by them in turn. (All right, she is referring to herself.) The loathsome term "conversation piece" is applied to books that are left around expressly for the purpose of getting a good conversation going.
(Free anecdote: Once, when Miss Manners' Aunt Helen was trying to be hospitable to a neighbor, conversation was lagging for lack of an interest in common. Valiantly, the neighbor looked about for a possible topic, and her eye landed on Aunt Helen's poetry collection. "Oh," she said, "I notice you are interested in anthology.")
No, examining books on your hosts' shelf is not like looking into their medicine cabinet. It is like looking at the pictures on their walls. Miss Manners notices that you are interested in sunflowers, if your wife doesn't find that too personal an insight.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: In one of those places where they bring you a little pot of hot water and a selection of tea bags so you can brew your own tea, I put the teabag in the cup and pour the hot water over it and let it steep for a minute or two. Then I dunk the bag up and down a few times, put the tea bag in the bowl of my spoon, put the little paper thingy on the end of the string over the teabag, and smush out the last few drops with my thumb.
This is a kind of messy operation, and sometimes some tea drizzles down my arm to the elbow. Should I use a second spoon for this or what? Nothing seems to work quite right for me. Maybe it would be better if I just ordered what I want and let someone back in the kitchen deal with the details. But that would lose a lot of the charm, wouldn't it?
GENTLE READER: Maybe it would be better if you found a place where they let you brew your own tea with tea leaves you could see and strain in a proper strainer. Miss Manners' idea of charm doesn't have strings and tags attached.
Her distaste for anything that brings paper to the table (except the news at breakfast) makes her reluctant to reveal a maneuver that may encourage teabags. However, for the sake of saving your shirts, she will confide that it is possible to get most last drops by using the string to bind (technical term: smush) the bag against the spoon.