DEAR MISS MANNERS: I attempt to use proper etiquette in my daily life. I’m far from perfect, and mistakes happen, but I do try my hardest to be polite in all things.
A former friend of mine said, on numerous occasions, that he believes my use of etiquette is merely performative.
I once asked him if we could stop at a store so I could purchase a cupcake as an apology for a director. (I had gotten sick and missed a scheduled rehearsal.) My then-friend refused to take me, as I was “trying too hard to be liked.”
Things like my love of homemade gifts and handwritten letters were also criticized as attempts to be unique and likable, not genuine acts of etiquette.
I will admit that I do enjoy being known as a polite and charitable person, but I don’t know how to respond to an accusation of only using manners as a means to an end. Is that a thought I should even entertain?
GENTLE READER: Just what the society needs: a denunciation of kindness and consideration for others. As this is a former friend, Miss Manners trusts that you no longer need to annoy him with your thoughtfulness.
It is no great insight to notice that etiquette is performative. There are formulas for words and gestures to convey intention and emotion. If you inconvenience someone, even inadvertently — or justifiably, in your case with the missed rehearsal, as it involved illness — you apologize as an acknowledgment of that person’s feelings. Accompanying this by a token present gives it extra charm. A handwritten letter shows appreciation for others’ efforts.
But are these expressions of genuine emotion?
Is the convict who expresses remorse really sorry, or just hoping for a lighter sentence? How can we know? Some villains are good actors. Nevertheless, we want to hear the criminal concede that crime is wrong.
Your former friend argues that our behavior should reflect our true feelings, however offensive they may be. (A great many people are already doing this, and those on the receiving end of honest nastiness resent it.) He also does not believe that good feelings could be genuine.
And he further argues that it is wrong to want other people to like you. Why, exactly, is that?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work in the service industry at a desk. I am often passed by people saying, “How you doing?”
What is the right response?
They really don’t want to hear a long reply, so I am not sure how to respond.
I have sometimes responded with “I am good, how are you?” but that seems to halt their progress past the desk. I have sometimes said nothing, but that seems rude, as does answering with just “I am good.” I thought about just saying “hi,” but that seemed kind of rude as well.
Please give me a good response.
GENTLE READER: This is a version of “How do you do?” — a phrase that is correctly pronounced without a questioning tone. It is now misunderstood to be a serious inquiry, rather than a simple greeting.
The response, in your case, is therefore “How you doing?” — although Miss Manners would also accept “Fine, thanks; and you?”
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, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.