Bashfully modest though she is, Miss Manners cannot help being aware that her appearance creates suspicion among those charged with spotting the criminal element.
Would an honest person wear gloves when it's not cold? Would a patriotic citizen move through airport crowds neither shoving ahead nor declaring "I'm in a hurry!" to those who presumably flock there only for the amenities?
Miss Manners is therefore personally familiar with the airport security search. In what could become a dangerous precedent, she is beginning to associate the adventure of travel with removing items of clothing in public.
But if it no longer seems odd to hand over her shoes to strangers, a habit she tries to keep in check when riding the subway, Miss Manners cannot accustom herself to impoliteness. The least people can do when they want to handle one's person is to ask nicely.
And so they do -- at least in her experience, and at least so far -- under the new federalized system. She awaits any less sanguine reports from others before conceding that the politeness she encountered might have been unintentional.
As it happened, when the changing of the guards was occurring, Miss Manners was gadding about more than usual (and more than what is sensible). She noticed that behavior had also changed. Although she had occasionally encountered politeness in those performing the security-check job before, they seemed to be acting out of personal, rather than professional, courtesy.
To command attention and move people along, the new security squad has learned substitute phrases for "You! Over here!" These include "Good morning, ma'am, could you step this way, please?" and "Sir, there's a shorter line over there."
She noticed that when they asked the rhetorical question, "May I search your bag?" they went through the ceremony of appearing to wait for an answer. Searches were conducted with as much dignity as the situation permitted.
"Please" accompanied the instructions, making them sound more like directions than orders. Accommodations were made to enable those being searched to monitor the progression of their belongings through scanning machines and further searches.
Most surprising to Miss Manners was the soothing patter accompanying the process by which one is revealed to be a treasure-trove of hidden metals. "It's probably the backing on your buttons," was the innocent explanation offered by the guard who administered the search. "I'm only going to touch you with the back of my hand, and I'll tell you each time before I do so." She was as good as her word, and said "Thank you" when she had to let Miss Manners go for lack of incriminating evidence. (It was the buttons.)
This is a higher standard than is maintained by another profession that handles people for what they profess is their own good. Medical manners require the same perfunctory requests for permission and running explanations, but this is not widely known because it is so rarely practiced.
For that matter, all those who deal with the public, even if legally required to keep their hands to themselves, need to learn that polite patter and soothing tone. Not only does it make a cumbersome necessity less unpleasant, but it speeds things up. It takes less time to be polite than to subdue someone who is rapidly moving from irate to irrational.
If the government has mastered the skill of teaching this to some of its employees, it should teach it to them all, and make the techniques available to the business world.
Then it could turn its attention to teaching its employees to repack luggage without making such a mess.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother is a widow of five years and is just now starting to date again. I'm naturally very happy for her. In our weekly phone conversations, she goes on at length about her wonderful (and sometimes humorous) dates.
The fact that I am gay was a bitter pill for my mother to take, and to this day she very strictly does not want to talk with me about that aspect of my life. It is hurtful for me to hear my mother talk about her dating life so enthusiastically, when I am not able to talk about my dating life with her. Is there any way to approach this topic without hurting my mother's feelings? GENTLE READER: Miss Manners recommends showing too much interest in your mother's dates, asking her how late she's staying out, whether she kisses on the first date, and so on.
When she gets fed up, you can then say, "Oh, I thought you wanted me to be the parent now -- the one whose own love life is not open to discussion, but who's allowed to interfere in yours."