DEAR MISS MANNERS: Recently I rented a vacation house with some friends. I've known him for several years but do not know his wife well. She is purportedly a former debutante from an old moneyed family. Her sister and I were to share a room.
On the second day, I returned from an outing and discovered that the wife had exchanged their room for ours because she liked it better. I know it's not a big deal, but this really got me steamed. Had I been asked I would have offered my room. I acted as though nothing had happened so as not to put a damper on the holiday.
Did I do the right thing, or was I too complacent? Is this typical deb behavior? My impoverished and illiterate grandparents had an innate graciousness and I can't imagine them acting in a similar fashion.
GENTLE READER: You were so gracious in letting this brazenly rude act pass that Miss Manners hates to deprive you of the comfort of class warfare.
But as your grandparents might have been able to attest, false associations of money and manners can cut both ways. The usual way is to disparage the poor, on the incorrect assumption that what counts is not graciousness but particular knowledge of esoteric manners they have no occasion to use.
The lady was rude. Why should you want to give her the excuse of attributing it to an over-privileged childhood?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work for the office of a U.S. senator, where I am often in the position of writing letters to children. While it seems natural to address a little girl as "Miss Harris," it seems strange to address a little boy as "Mr. Johnson." The appellation "Master Johnson" appears to have fallen out of use in this country. We use the boy's first name in the body of the letter ("Dear Tommy"), but how should we address the envelope?
GENTLE READER: Would there be anything wrong with allowing youngsters to feel that they have a dignified senator who treats them with serious respect? "Master" is still used, although rarely, and perfectly appropriate. Alternatively, "mister," which seems strange to you in this context, may seem thrilling to the young master.