DEAR MISS MANNERS: A few months ago, my friend (let's call her Mary) was widowed. She lives halfway across the country so I did not attend the funeral, but sent a letter of condolence. Since then, we have e-mailed each other fairly often. Yesterday was her birthday so I decided to phone her, but I got her answering machine. I was stunned to hear her late husband's voice on the tape.
I know that some women living alone prefer to have a man's voice on their answering machine, but Mary has two grown sons who I feel sure would be willing to re-tape the message for her. It was very disconcerting to hear her late husband's voice. Should I gently suggest a change, or assume that others have already done so and that she has refused?
GENTLE READER: Oh, a new way to bother widows. Just what we needed.
A new widow can count on receiving the following pieces of erroneous etiquette advice:
1. That if she has used "Mrs." with her husband's name, as in "Mrs. Hubert Willow," she may no longer do so, but must be "Mrs. Anastasia Willow."
In fact, a lady's name does not change when her husband dies, and if she has used the traditional formal form she continues to do so. Furthermore, "Mrs." with a lady's first name is always incorrect, which is why "Ms." is so useful to divorcees, as well as to anyone else, married, unmarried or widowed, who uses her own full name.
2. That she must soon remove the engagement and wedding rings her dear husband gave her, and which she has worn and cherished all her married life.
Etiquette does not ask widows to hold out their hands so any lingering symbols from their marriage can be confiscated. The only time it is incorrect for a widow to wear her rings is when she is marrying another gentleman.
And now you want Miss Manners to throw in a third piece of mischievous misinformation.
Why? Why do you care? You don't even call her often.
In any case, Miss Manners refuses to validate your feeling that your friend should erase her late husband's voice, which for all you know she takes comfort in hearing. All that etiquette requires of taped telephone messages is that they be succinct.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm an accomplished piano player who enjoys playing a wide variety of musical styles and composers. The piano is one of my most enjoyable hobbies.
I also like to host small dinner parties (six to 10 guests) frequently. Is there an appropriate way to offer some musical entertainment -- even if for just five or 10 minutes -- at some point during an evening together? If so, how? I'd love to share my music with friends.
GENTLE READER: Certainly, provided you first share with them the plan for the evening. Miss Manners said "share," not "warn," because she thinks this sounds delightful, but it is within the realm of possibility that there are some people who might not. If your invitation mentions both dinner and music, you will head those people off, and be able to trust the applause and shouts for encores more than if you had taken them by surprise.