"The love affair that people have had with automobiles has in some ways grown stale, and some would say it's even dying."
Once everybody got over the astonishment of learning that such a statement had come from the chairman and chief executive of the Ford Motor Co., a Mr. Ford, Miss Manners began musing about whether motoring manners had changed as dramatically. Some say these are dying, or that others are as a result.
When automobiles first appeared, the etiquette complaint was that drivers sped about recklessly, heedless of pedestrians and other traffic. Nothing new there, except that the offending speed is above 20 miles per hour, and those miffed tend to be speedier drivers, rather than horses.
Huge goggles were worn, and still are, although no longer with those fetching linen dusters, motor bonnets and veils. Now the goggles are made with dark glass.
The rule about monogramming one's motor car -- that it be done discreetly, on both doors of a two-door one but only the back doors of a four-door -- remains unchanged, although the preference now is to post one's loyalties and sentiments in large banners on the front and back, and discretion has been left in the dust.
The factor to which the present disenchantment with automobiles is attributed -- nasty emissions -- is, indeed, a modern issue. It is not that people used to revel in messes instead of caring about the environment as we enlightened folk do; it was only that the traffic to which they had been accustomed had produced smellier messes.
Etiquette rules that were adapted from previous modes of transportation have long since fallen into disuse, Miss Manners has observed. It no longer seems necessary to do a motor-car seating arrangement reserving the place of honor on the host's right, although, even then, an exception was made if it interfered with his sitting within easy reach of the speaking tube connecting him with the driver.
However, the rule that no lady should have to sit backward still applies in those elongated cars that carry entire proms careening around town. Unfortunately, with built-in bars, the seating plan tends to rearrange itself.
It is in a larger sense that conditions inside the automobile have changed, giving rise to the need for different rules of etiquette. Early motorists did not require regulations for an entertainment center, a communications department, a dining room and a dressing room.
So far, attention on these activities has focused on the more urgent question of whether they impair public safety. One hears theories that a driver who is responding to music, receiving a fax, eating breakfast and clipping his fingernails may not be paying full attention to the road. This has not daunted people who grew up claiming they could do their homework while watching television.
But what of the social conditions within? Miss Manners admits that the potential danger here is minor compared to the possibilities for creating highway havoc, but she worries all the same.
Etiquette wars in households in which people have had to share such equipment have been so vicious that families who can afford it avoid the necessity of polite cooperation with multiple telephones and tape decks, not to mention bathrooms. And that is in a situation where they can at least get away from one another.
The family car may be the last place where the etiquette of sharing, taking turns, compromising and obtaining a consensus are necessary. At least until the children are old enough to drive their own cars.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My friends live in an older home on a lovely street and work tirelessly to improve their home -- beautiful gate, wonderful rock garden, etc. They enjoy their home -- or they would, if it were not for the busybody who lives in the neighborhood who believes she has the right to criticize them and others.
She invades their privacy. She enters their house uninvited, and if she sees them in their yard, she hustles over to inform them what she thinks of them and what they need to do to their place. She is nasty and uses foul language, calling people names that I shouldn't like to hear.
Should they have a restraining order placed on her? It's too late to try to teach her any manners. She's 70-plus years old.
GENTLE READER: What your friends have there is a genuine Neighborhood Character, in the Crusty Old Nuisance category.
This does not mean that they need to cherish her, but they do need to restrain themselves from over-reacting.
Miss Manners advises locking their doors and garden gates, replying, "Yes, ma'am" in reply to unpleasant remarks, and continuing to enjoy their home. If further restraint becomes necessary, it is the lady's relatives, not the police, they need to call, dumping on them both the problem and a lot of sympathy.