DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I write to my elderly widowed aunt, I address the envelope "Mrs. John Smith" as I was always told that a widow may keep her husband's name and ring as she wishes. My husband insists I am wrong, wrong, wrong. He says I must address the envelope as "Mrs. Mary Smith."
And how's this for a winner? He refers to his secretary, staff members and assistant as "hired help." I say "staff members or "employees." Who is right?
GENTLE READER: You are, but Miss Manners wants to thank your husband all the same. That is because disconnections between the spirit and the practice of etiquette -- outwardly courteous villains, for example, or people who mean well but keep causing offense -- are always cited to claim that etiquette is unimportant.
Your husband is at least consistent. He is as ignorant of the correct forms of address as he is of the obligation, especially on the part of those who have power over others, to show respect.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Last weekend, my friend and her husband showed up at our house for dinner sick. They both had terrible colds, complete with red, bleary eyes, red swollen noses, and they were blowing their noses constantly.
I was appalled that they did not have the courtesy to cancel, to avoid possibly infecting us and our three children. Needless to say, my 2-year old caught the cold, was very sick and is still on the mend. Luckily, my middle child has not gotten sick. He has asthma, and common illnesses such as severe colds can make him extremely sick.
What would have been the proper etiquette in this situation? My initial response was to be polite and not comment on their obvious distress, but to make them as comfortable as possible. But in retrospect, I also have a duty to my children to protect them, particularly from people who don't seem to know any better.
GENTLE READER: Your friends seem to know good, but not better. They knew that it is rude to cancel a dinner engagement without a serious reason, which is good; but they don't seem to know enough to recognize a serious reason when it is right up their noses, which would be better.
Another fine distinction is that while your children's health may be a perfectly good reason for throwing your guests out of the house, it is not a good excuse. A good excuse would be concern for the suffering of your dear friends.
Miss Manners would have suggested dissolving in sympathy for them: "Oh, you poor things, you're really sick! And you were so nice to struggle out of your sick beds and come to us anyway. It's very, very sweet of you, but I won't hear of it. It's too much of a sacrifice, and we'll have a nice dinner together when you're well. In the meantime, I'm going to make you comfortable on the sofa (children, please stay away; they don't feel well) while I pack you a little something to eat when you feel up to it. Let me get you a blanket for your knees, and I'll just be a few minutes. Now I want you to promise me you'll get a good rest, and call me to let me know how you're getting along."