At the risk of being taken for an Edwardian sneering at Victorians, Miss Manners must say that society's prudery is not only ridiculous but dangerously repressive.
Everyone knows the facts of life. We all know that everybody does it, for heaven's sake. So why pretend otherwise?
And how is it possible to act as if a universal aspect of life doesn't exist, while all the while thinking of little else? People are all worried about themselves obsessively and dying of curiosity about everyone else.
Anyone who thinks that Miss Manners is talking about sex has a dirty mind, if she may be permitted so quaint an expression in an era when that activity is so commonly exposed that it has trouble making a living selling cars and beer.
Aging is the fact of life to which she is referring.
We are so much in denial about the plain fact that people keep growing older as to have sabotaged the manners by which age accrues respect, and to have invented conventions that our most straitlaced ancestors would denounce as ludicrous and hypocritical.
The dignity and privileges of age, including precedence, respect and tolerance for stories that have been told before, have vanished. Old people are themselves responsible for swatting down these benevolent attitudes, after which that last item fell of its own accord.
But, of course, they are not old people. There is no such thing. The only stages we now recognize are young, young-at-heart and dead.
This explains why it has become customary for people to assure one another that they mistake them for much younger than they are, all the while trying to find out how much older they are than they pretend to be.
Umbrage is taken if this fiction is exposed, even by a show of courtesy, such as yielding a seat or using the deferential terms "sir" and "ma'am." In the interests of sustaining the illusion that time stands still, our suspiciously worn-looking youth have killed whatever courtesies their juniors were required to show them.
Small wonder that another thing that fell of its own accord was the assumption that experience counts, and that the young have something to learn from those who have been around longer.
Giving up consideration and authority would be a better bargain if it worked. It is undeniable that age has a disadvantage compared to youth: a more limited future. But it doesn't work. No one is fooled -- neither the real young nor the natural life cycle. We have given up the fairest system we have for allotting privileges for nothing.
Furthermore, this charade offends those who are mature enough to accept and enjoy the different stages of life. The flattery involved is transparent and patronizing. Exclamations such as, "You look more like a high school kid than a teacher" and "I thought you were his older brother, not his father" may be meant as compliments, but they contain digs at professional competence and family dignity.
To be told that one is what one is obviously not -- as when a smart woman is told that she "thinks like a man" or an American that being cultured makes him seem more like a European -- denigrates what one actually is.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I dined at a very formal French restaurant where everything was superb except, perhaps, my use of the silverware.
Before the first course was presented (a dish with a sauce), the waiter placed an unfamiliar piece of silverware at the top of my table setting. It looked like a flattened tablespoon with a small, curved point at the end. This utensil was again presented with the main course that also included a sauce.
I have to tell you that I used it to "scoop/scrape" and devour (silently and discreetly) the superb sauces. Was I correct or merely the subject of ridicule for the waiters?
GENTLE READER: You were correct about the utensil, which is that useful-if-somewhat-questionable item, a sauce spoon.
Whether you are also correct in your suspicion that the waiters were ridiculing you, Miss Manners cannot say. Surely, sneering at the customers among themselves for real or fancied reasons is one of the perks of being a waiter in a very formal French restaurant.