DEAR MISS MANNERS: We are taking a vacation to England this fall, and I have a tiara I wore with my prom dress. What places can I wear it out in England? I know they use them a lot there.
GENTLE READER: No, not a lot. Not nearly as often as Miss America wears hers, for example.
Elderly British duchesses have been known to get fed up waiting for an opportunity to wear theirs, despairing that when their saucy daughters-in-law inherit them, they will pluck out the gem stones to use for heaven knows what. Probably belly-button decorations.
This is because tiaras are worn only for full dress occasions, which nowadays pretty much means only grand state banquets or ceremonies, and the occasional full-scale royal wedding. Perhaps Miss Manners had better explain that full dress means something more than prom wear and the full-scale wedding means something more than a royal second wedding you may have seen on television. In any case, the days of private balls and grand opera nights where tiaras were worn seem to have faded away. Furthermore, tiaras are not supposed to be worn by unmarried ladies, with the exception of those who are being married within an hour of placing them carefully in their hair.
Miss Manners hopes she hasn't spoiled your vacation. You may find there a daring young lady or two who doesn't care about the rules governing tiaras as a sign of rank and wealth and plops something sparkly in her hair to go out dancing. It is just that you are no more or less likely to do so than in the United States.
Besides, tiaras are a nightmare to pack.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper response to people who ask when my boyfriend and I will become engaged?
GENTLE READER: "We haven't set the date."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I found out about my surprise 40th birthday party within days of my wife, sister and friends planning it.
My wife made the mistake of saving the invitation on our computer; being a computer guy and seeing a strange file, I opened it. If I tell everyone how I found out, my sister and others may get mad at my wife for making the mistake.
What should I do? Do I tell them I know or play dumb to the end?
GENTLE READER: Of course you should play-act. That is what it takes, under any circumstances, to be the guest of honor at a surprise party.
Even if you didn't know about it beforehand, you would have to maintain an astonished look on your face for the entire duration of the party, while one guest after another asked if you were "really" surprised. Even if you fainted dead away at the door, all the guests would ask you during the course of the evening if you were really surprised.
The correct answer to that is yes. Miss Manners presumes that you were surprised when you came upon the invitation in the computer, and you needn't be specific about the timing.