A lady of Miss Manners' acquaintance was required to remove her sweater in a crowd full of strangers.
Fortunately, she was also of Miss Manners' vintage, so under the sweater, she wore a garment once known to all fastidious ladies as a "full slip." Such a garment still exists, but it is now mistakenly called a "dress." To the shock of youthful observers, the lady in question appeared to be outfitted in preparation for quick stripping, presumably so as not to waste any time in hitting the club scene once she arrived at her destination.
A young gentleman of Miss Manners' acquaintance was ordered first to stretch his arms out straight from his shoulders, then to unfasten his belt buckle. When he attempted to use his hands to follow the second instruction, he was caught violating the first. "Didn't I tell you to keep your arms up?" the guard barked.
Miss Manners got off easy. All she had to do was to remove her shoes and, for the first time since ballet class, hold her toes up to public view.
And people had been complaining that air travel lost its dignity when the passengers stopped wearing gloves and hats to travel.
As we all recognize, the choice between dignity and safety is no choice at all -- especially among people who want to go where they are scheduled to go, and who happen to notice that armed guards are present. The question is whether we can have both.
Not that travelers should reasonably expect this. Since the days when innkeepers unceremoniously stuffed their clients into one another's rooms and beds, the realistic choice was between dignity and travel.
Anyway, if the phrase "carefree travel" were not just a travel-brochure fantasy, it would ruin the experience. Stories about ludicrous incidents, preferably embarrassing ones, form the staple of returned travelers' conversation. As they quickly discover, no one is willing to listen to how deeply they felt about visiting the actual place where something historical happened, or the menu of that great little restaurant unknown to the rest of the tourist world.
Still, there are little adjustments that would make air security investigations less of a trial, not just for those going abroad, but for those who are employed to go through their unsavory belongings.
For example, Miss Manners would like to see the fashion industry make a patriotic attempt to popularize the Frieda Kahlo look, so that the panic potential would be removed from tweezers being confiscated. And, if airports set up laundry machines outside the security lines, this would give passengers something to do while waiting in line, and spare the inspectors having to see their unmentionables in an unmentionable state.
Etiquette adjustment is even more important. Pretending not to notice the obvious, such as topless ladies and open-trousered gentlemen, does not come easily to a population that has accustomed itself to expressing its every observation, to the extent of informing strangers that they are tall or fat. Yet, it is a necessity.
Never one to give out prizes for natural behavior, Miss Manners has been pleased to observe people in various aspects of this situation rising above their natural reactions.
Crime fighters naturally regard everyone with suspicion, yet she has observed quite a number of them treating suspects -- meaning the entire traveling public -- with polite deference. Many have revived the nearly forgotten terms "sir" and "madam," and convey through their calmness the notion that they are performing a regrettably necessary routine rather than relishing their authority to make people squirm.
Citizens naturally take the position that they are so obviously respectable that any such routines are a waste of time, causing security people to neglect their real job of catching criminals. Yet, she has seen examples of patience and grace practiced by those being searched, which are all the more amazing considering that only a year ago, it was common to observe people going into rages at airports merely over delays caused by bad weather.
Her prize for civilized restraint under pressure goes to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) Subjected to the pants-down search at airport security, he never once let drop the fact that he is a Member of Congress. Now that is the kind of unnatural behavior that Miss Manners admires.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A lot of my colleagues close their letters with the phrase, "With kind regards." This sounds strange to me.
It seems to me that the recipient should decide whether the regards are kind or not, not the sender. I always thought you were supposed to say "Best regards" if you wanted an informal closure to your letter. What do you think about this?
GENTLE READER: "Best regards"? What makes you think your regards are better than anyone else's?
Never mind, Miss Manners doesn't mean that. She knows you have kindly intentions. She believes that your colleagues do, too, when they send their most kindly meant regards.
Perhaps not. Perhaps there are unkind thoughts being harbored by someone. If so, she would rather not know about this, and prefers generously -- if she does say so herself -- to take them at face value. She trusts that this makes up for her snippiness about hosts who ask for "regrets only," on the presumption that people declining their invitations must be overcome with regret.