The pearl-encrusted lady, that legendary personification of etiquette, sails along with her nose in the air as she frostily delivers the ultimate conversation-killer:
"I do not believe (pause) that we have been (pause) properly introduced."
Great sport is to be had from contrasting her behavior with that of the unpretentious human being she snubs, who -- far from hoping to enjoy her tedious society -- was only trying to be helpful. Off she goes on her snooty way, not bothering to catch the murmured remark, "Pardon me, madam, but you are about to step into an open manhole."
Miss Manners has always been puzzled by this supposedly hilarious figure who exists only in order to demonstrate that the purpose of good manners is to inflict humiliation on honest folk. The corollary must be that true kindness and consideration can only be found among the rude.
But others must be even more puzzled by this particular bromide. What, they must wonder, is a "proper introduction," anyway?
"Hi, I'm Zack"?
"I'm Brianna, and I'll be your waitperson"?
All the same, the need for this rule still exists, and the good people who reversed it, advocating social receptiveness with no formalities, have created a lot of confusion and trouble. Hugging strangers did not spread the happiness that was promised, and simple friendliness to the unknown has been known to result in tragedy.
When lurid crimes unfortunately illustrated the dangers of such openness, parents again began teaching their children never to talk to strangers, while some adults even questioned the wisdom of allowing familiarities by those unfamiliar to them. This strikes Miss Manners as only sensible, even if it was done in ignorance of the rule's previous existence and accompanied by wailing that this didn't used to be necessary because the world used to be so safe, back before the invention of crime.
However, there was a weird element this time around: People who take these simple precautions feel that they are being rude. They know they have to protect themselves, but they feel bad administering the rebuffing involved.
After the last wave of kidnappings, there were advisories telling parents to teach their children "that it was all right to be impolite" when approached by strangers. Young ladies are always asking Miss Manners how to avoid being rude when declining amorous overtures on the street.
She finds this somewhat touching. America has, after all, a fine tradition of easy friendship and kindness to strangers. However, this was always either within a stable social environment, such as when newcomers are welcomed to a neighborhood, a congregation, an organization or a school; or it was transitory, as when people chatted when stranded together or offered aid to those who needed it.
For friendship, and even more for romance, there had to be some plausible connection to someone acquainted with the person's character. Picking up strangers wasn't safe in olden times, and it is not safe now. Etiquette did not invent the proper introduction rule to discourage warmth but to protect safety. Snubbing aggressive strangers is not rude, but prudent.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have come across an interesting problem regarding how to properly fold business letters.
Should they be folded so that the name of the addressee shows immediately upon opening the letter, or folded so that the name is on the inside, and only the blank reverse-side shows upon opening it? This question has generated much discussion in my office.
GENTLE READER: Folded? Are you talking about paper? And when you refer to putting it inside, do you mean that your plan is to put this piece of paper into a paper envelope?
Miss Manners considers this a wonderful idea, but she is not surprised that your colleagues are confused. It is getting to be a lost art.
All right, that's enough nostalgic wandering. A business letter is folded in thirds, the bottom third toward the middle, and the top third down over it. Thus the blank, reverse side of the top part of the letter is what is seen when the envelope is opened from the back, but the letter itself then can be unfolded right side up.