DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an American married to an Englishman who is a college professor, and who has lived in this country for about 35 years. I will be moving with him to England when we retire.
My husband, who is from a lower middle-class background like myself, has been knighted! He still answers his office phone as “Pete Smith.” He never corrects people in the way they address him. The name on his business cards is “Peter Smith, Ph.D.,” plus a string of other letters including his knighthood, but of course most Americans can’t make heads or tails of that.
I admire his modesty, yet, perversely, I want to be “Lady Smith.” Will Miss Manners allow me to get away with this? If so, how?
GENTLE READER: Unfortunately, honors do not come with instructions for use, but your husband has the right instinct. In class-stratified societies, such as England, it is considered, well, low-class to refer to oneself using one’s title. And in an officially classless society, such as the United States, citizens do not use titles.
That said, Miss Manners would like to indulge your amusing yearning. Perhaps your own field of expertise is 19th-century British literature, and you grew fond of its designations.
Her advice is to make a little joke of it: “Well, actually, that’s Lady Smith, but you can call me Pamela.” Or, “Technically, I’m a lady, so I try to behave myself.” Or, “Sir Peter, I’m afraid it’s time for us to go home.”
Someone is bound to ask you what you mean. Then you, too, can be modest, and say, “Well, of course it’s not something we make a point of, but we do tease Pete about becoming a knight.”