DEAR MISS MANNERS: It occurs to me that we may be just a couple of weeks away from needing a refresher course on why gentlemen and ladies used to wear gloves. What with SARS beginning to spread, wearing gloves in public may once again become a reasonable precaution to help avoid disease. From what the medical people are saying, it should be more to the point than wearing masks.
GENTLE READER: Oh, but the etiquette of mask wearing can be so much more exciting. Miss Manners is thinking of 18th century Venice, when masks were worn half the year and the convention was that masked people must be considered unidentifiable. So if your spouse or creditors spotted you at an inconvenient time, knowing perfectly well it was you, it didn't count.
There is also earlier precedent for their usefulness during plagues. The masks, that is, not the spouses and creditors.
Other than in specific working situations, from surgery to gardening, gloves were not worn expressly for protective reasons. Unimaginable as it may now seem, people were simply in the habit of getting dressed when they went out, and this included hats and gloves.
Glove-related etiquette therefore had mostly to do with when to take them off: Gentlemen had to remove them before shaking hands, and, following a rule that is always being disgustingly violated in costume dramas, everyone had to remove them before touching food or drink.
So those rules are not terribly useful to ward off disease. Miss Manners would undertake to revise them if she thought we would all have to learn to live that way, but she trusts not. Emergency measures must sometimes be taken, during which people apologize to one another for suspending the conventions and everyone understands. But she does not want to encourage those who, even during ordinary times, view their fellow human beings chiefly as sources of contamination.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: While my wife and I were dining in a restaurant, the server made a mistake and brought one of us the wrong order. We can return the meal and ask for the original order, but that means that one of us will be eating while the other one is watching, which is a bit awkward.
We can accept the wrong order and grumble about it, but this is not an option we care to entertain. Or we can return both meals and ask that two fresh dinners be served so that we can enjoy the meal together. Are we being unreasonable in asking for two fresh dinners?
GENTLE READER: Not at all. The business of restaurants is not just to sell food, but to provide the experience of dining, and you would be cheated of that if you and your wife were forced to have successive dinners. Miss Manners would not worry too much about the inconvenience to the restaurant. First, it was their mistake, and second, you will only get that same dinner back re-heated.