DEAR MISS MANNERS: When is one obliged to join a standing ovation? My understanding is that standing ovations are reserved for truly outstanding performances, and that applause while seated will suffice as a show of appreciation for other performances.
However, if one's fellow audience members judge a performance worthy of a standing ovation and rise, is one required to join them? Is it rude to remain seated while others around you are standing?
GENTLE READER: Do you always feel that you have to vote with the majority?
Not a fair question, Miss Manners admits. You vote in private. In public, you want to be polite, surely with her approval.
Aha! Now we are at the heart of the question: Is an ovation a vote, which is to say a sign of high approval of a performance? Or is it a polite gesture, a way of thanking the performers for their efforts, whether or not you thought these were successful?
In theatrical -- and especially musical -- tradition, audience reaction is a judgment, and the standing ovation its most dramatic sign of admiration, short of flinging bouquets or oneself at one's artistic idol. As devoted as Miss Manners is to decorous behavior, she relishes the robust operatic tradition of audience feedback.
But modern American audiences have the notion that wild enthusiasm is owed in return for any effort, and that leaving an auditorium when the piece is over without a huge show of appreciation is like leaving a party without gushing to the hosts.
Not quite. This is true of amateur performances, especially those to which one has been invited by one of the participants. But professionals ought to have the thrill of knowing that a standing ovation is a true triumph. It would be a shame to wake up the next day to find that the same people have posted their dissatisfaction all over the Internet.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received a beautiful amethyst bracelet and set of earrings as a birthday gift. I remember one of Grandmother Manners' maxims was "Colored stones are vulgar."
Will you please elaborate and provide context for this rule? Does polite society still eschew colored gemstones?
GENTLE READER: It is time to confess that the family suspects our much-beloved Grandmother Manners made that one up.
Of course, we also thought that she made up "A lady never checks her coat at a restaurant," and that obscure rule turned out to be documented in the literature. We may just be bitter about the jewelry we didn't inherit when she condemned it.
Please enjoy your amethysts in good conscience. Miss Manners will square it with Grandmother Manners.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my daughter married last year, my ex-wife and I both attended. I brought nobody with me, but my ex-wife brought along her current gentleman-friend.
I disregarded it, out of consideration for the Happy Pair, but I considered it rather tacky of my ex-wife to bring her boyfriend to her daughter's wedding, when she was well aware that I would also attend. Am I being unreasonably sensitive?
GENTLE READER: The sensitivity is understandable and blameless. You are raw from the divorce, but managed to behave well.
However, Miss Manners must tell you that it is unreasonable to think that a divorcee will not go on with her life. She has had to tell many a lady to bear up in the presence of her successor.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)