DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an elderly gentleman, of almost 71 years, who was lucky enough to be taught to read at an early age. As I matured, I developed into a compulsive reader, reading just about anything that bears the printed word. I do so with the general knowledge that if it was written, it was intended to be read.
At a public doing, I encountered a very well developed female at least thirty years my junior. She was wearing an exceptionally low top and displaying all of her natural attributes.
Each of her displayed anatomy parts were amply tattooed with words of the English language. They appeared to be clearly printed, though, being a gentleman, I did not read.
I have no knowledge of what they said. Possibly, they were names of her friends or perhaps instructions of some sort regarding a likely delicate matter.
Since this printing was in a public place, would I have been correct in reading the words, or was I correct in merely trying to look at her forehead?
GENTLE READER: You have given Miss Manners the opportunity to play Portia in "The Merchant of Venice." (You will recall that she was the legal authority who upheld the forfeit of a pound of flesh provided that no blood was taken with it.)
Yes, you are entitled to read publicly displayed signs. But no, you are not entitled to stare at a lady's chest.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a female college student who occasionally attends lunches or dinners with professional individuals that I am not previously acquainted with. Such meals usually require semiformal or business attire and may or may not include assigned seating.
Should I or should I not wait to be seated until a gentleman of the table offers to help me by pushing in my seat? I know that this is an appropriate gesture at formal meals for a gentleman when seated with a lady of his acquaintance, but I do not want to stand awkwardly by a chair until someone offers (assuming someone does) or appear pointedly rude by waiting too long.
On the other hand, I do not wish to seem ignorant of tradition or form a poor first impression, particularly as I may want to eventually form a professional connection with members of the table.
GENTLE READER: As a general rule, the social manners that distinguish between ladies and gentlemen do not apply in the professional context, even when that context comes with food and drink. If deference is shown, it is to rank, and not to gender, and students form the bottom rank.
Miss Manners realizes that certain gender-related actions are habitual with gentlemen, who will, for example, hold doors (or chairs) for their female colleagues. This should be accepted graciously, but it should never seem expected. Emphasize that you are there as a lady, rather than in your professional capacity, and the others will soon be expecting you to play hostess and bring the coffee.