When two minor business trends were recently reported at the same time, Miss Manners was disappointed not to find a theory stringing them together. She always enjoys learning how the economy will be permanently affected by what toddlers want for Christmas this year and where interns are going for lunch.
One trend is that people who have been working for themselves out of their homes, freelancing or running their own small businesses, are said to be applying for the types of jobs, complete with set hours, offices and bosses, that they had been glad to escape.
The other is that the home-like accommodations and perks that had been offered to soften the terms of such jobs, such as stylistic informality and expense-account sociability, are being cut back.
Anyone can posit an economic connection here: Hard times mean that people want steady incomes and that businesses stop offering frills. Miss Manners is fishing for something with a cultural implication.
In keeping with the social sciences tradition of using any available evidence to bolster one's own prejudice (an example being trends simultaneously used to prove that children of stay-at-home mothers are either better off or worse off), she concludes that people are finally realizing that we went too far in making the home productive and the workplace homey.
There are undeniable advantages, she admits, to getting things done at home and goofing off at work. Furthermore, the antiquated structure of the American workplace, which still operates on the assumption that a worker has no personal responsibilities and someone who does has no need of earning a living -- the two being married to each other -- makes this necessary.
Nevertheless, the clacking of office equipment, the constant telephone availability and the squelching of innocent activities at the slightest indication that they might interfere with work are bound to get on the nerves of people who hold the old-fashioned view that home is a place to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends. Meanwhile, the parties, gift exchanges and other pressures to treat colleagues as if they were family or friends are bound to annoy those who hold the old-fashioned view that work is a place to get work done.
There is also something demoralizing about the disorientation these hybrids create. Putting on one's professionalism, in behavior and dress, can be invigorating, as those who work at home in their bathrobes eventually concede. At the very least, this exercise provides the relief of shedding the crisp for the cozy upon returning home.
Miss Manners is sadly aware that until society recognizes that everyone needs to earn a living and everyone needs to have a personal life, everyone will be caught between the two. The satisfaction of working at home and socializing at work are both sabotaged by knowing that one is doing full justice to neither realm.
As an interim measure until workplace reform catches up with daily life, Miss Manners rejoices to see ersatz socializing being cut from the work routine. The next step should be to hand over to the workers the time saved, especially that from evening gatherings and weekend retreats, for their own true personal use.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the polite way one goes about eventually learning the last name of a new acquaintance?
As much as it used to be the case that one would first introduce oneself by one's last name and only reveal one's first name under more intimate circumstances, it is now the custom in most social circles to introduce oneself solely by the first name. I find myself generally reduced to the subversive tactics of finding some list in which the name is written or asking a third mutual acquaintance who happens to know, but surely etiquette has a better solution.
GENTLE READER: You might ask at the time of the introduction. Miss Manners finds that most people remember their own surnames when prompted, even if they haven't used them for years.