DEAR MISS MANNERS: In this election year, I am struck by a barrier to participation in the world's most famous democracy -- that being Americans' reluctance to consider political discourse to be polite conversation.
In most parts of the world, it might be considered far more engaging dinner conversation to contrast the qualities of candidates for office than, say, to discuss the less savory sorts of reality television.
I find the rigor with which reasoned political discourse -- or even discussion of complex news topics -- is quashed as if it's a threat to future generation's participation in our communities. I certainly grew up with animated (but cordial) political discussion in many formal and informal venues.
Yet broach the subject of an election at most dinner tables or cocktail parties and it's as though you were discussing something shameful or utterly beyond proper behavior. My European friends are actually shocked at the lack of casual discourse on political matters here, and frankly so am I.
Could you please elaborate as to the proper place of free speech in mixed company?
GENTLE READER: You mean people of mixed political opinions, who are going to feel free to say what they think about the morals and intelligence of people who disagree with them about politics (or sex or religion, which are also banned from the dinner table)?
Miss Manners suggests you try bringing up a topic from each of these areas -- for example, the death penalty, same-sex marriage, or abortion -- and see how much polite, cordial and reasoned discourse you provoke.
She would be only too happy to welcome the return of substantive conversation at dinner parties; goodness knows she is weary of hearing people talk about the food. But conversation requires listening respectfully to others and engaging in polite give-and-take, rather than making speeches and imputing others' motives and judgment.
Unless you are sure you are among those who know how to express their opinions politely and listen to others' respectfully, Miss Manners suggests you be grateful for those discussions of reality television.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it bad manners to wear my gloves during church service during the "greeting time," when the members of the congregation are expected to shake hands with each other, and during the "closing song," when we are expected to hold hands with the persons closest to us as we sing?
I'm embarrassed because my hands feel so cold, and on cold days I can't seem to warm them up before I have to touch other people's hands. I've already checked with my doctor about my condition. He says I don't have a circulation problem.
GENTLE READER: Good, and Miss Manners isn't congratulating you only on your health. Church manners, which pre-date both central heating and physical demonstrations of fellowship, are on your side. So are social manners, which require only gentlemen, but not ladies, to remove their gloves before shaking hands.
What you cannot do is to say, "Pardon my glove," a statement that etiquette has always considered hilariously vulgar for reasons Miss Manners forgets. However, a whispered "Cold hands" should placate anyone who seems offended, rather than grateful, to be holding your glove.