DEAR MISS MANNERS: Are there professional situations in which one can be too polite? In recent years, TV and radio journalists have tended to preface their interviews with greetings and concluded them with thanks.
I don't remember Walter Cronkite doing that. Many of the interviewees seem not to know if or how they should respond, resulting in awkward pauses and interruptions. This effort at bonhomie, doubtless designed to re-image the media as kind and caring, seems out of place and distracting in the context.
As a corollary, I have noticed that those who do respond to the interviewer's thank-you often do so with their own thank-you. This seems to be a trend in society at large. In our effort to be the most deferential, have we abandoned the old-fashioned and, what I was taught to be, the proper response: "You're welcome"?
GENTLE READER: As far back as Miss Manners can remember, which must have been when TV sets had to be hand-cranked, an oddly misplaced form of social manners was being used.
Newscasters and interviewers always called themselves "hosts" and referred to the people they interviewed as "guests." At the same time, the industry was forever talking about itself in terms of "being invited" into the viewers' living rooms (this was before there was a set at every bedside; Miss Manners warned you that it was a long time ago), which would make those hosts the guests of the audience.
So it is not that they are "too polite" (a concept Miss Manners refuses to recognize); they are just confused. Guests are supposed to thank, and, as they are all guests in one way or another, they are all too busy thanking to accept thanks.
Peculiar as this pattern is, it has been used for so long that more businesslike manners on television would now seem too curt. Miss Manners only regrets, as you do, that the confusion has spread to society at large, where it is being forgotten that the courteous answer to the courtesy of thanks is "You're welcome."
In connection with TV programs, saying "you're welcome" would be the job of host-viewers, if they were not all too busy saying, "There must be something else on."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother says putting lipstick on at the table in a restaurant is poor manners. I say that if you have a beautiful holder or compact and don't take all evening, it is accepted today. Who is right -- her (old school) or me (new school)?
GENTLE READER: The new school is right. But wait -- before you rush off to triumph over your mother, Miss Manners must point out that it is your mother who represents the new school in this dispute.
Before World War I, ladies did not put on make-up in public for the sensible reason that they were pretending that they never wore any. After the war, some of them inaugurated the modern era of fashion by wearing little else.
Thus the beautiful compacts, which it soon came to be permissible to flash at the table, date from the 1920s and 1930s. These often matched elaborate cigarette holders, as smoking at the table was also permitted.
In recent times, onlookers revolted against both smoking and grooming at the table on the grounds that they found those practices unappetizing. They have therefore been banned by the new school.