How can I “help?”

I awoke this morning to a late Christmas present: a solicitation for my advice regarding a delicate issue of etiquette. Save for toothy grins from my little angels and the knowledge that all my loved ones are healthy and happy, nothing pleases me more than to be considered an expert on anything, but most particularly on matters of the Big E. Some scoff at the concept as trite or obsolete, but it’s what allows us to dine together at the the table without physical violence or gagging, what enables PETA and Tea Party members to enjoy meaningful friendships with each other, and why, more often than not, when you leave your house, you don’t come home with a black eye. We’re all active participants in our culture’s etiquette, which is why we have any culture at all, in the most basic sense of the word. A thorough mastery of the formal place-setting is not required to possess “good manners,” but the ability to make every guest in your home feel welcome and special is. Anyone who would use their knowledge of specific manners as a means to exclude or ridicule others is, perhaps unwittingly, practicing the dark art of etiquette’s evil cousin: snobbery.

All this is to preface my introduction of a new component I’m adding to the site: Dear Someone. If my readers would be so kind to send me questions at someonesintheoven@yahoo.com regarding breaches of basic civility, family quandaries, partner stand-offs, what-does-one-do-whens, and so forth, I will graciously provide you with either an outline of the high road or, if merited, the best way to “innocently” emotionally cripple the offender. I’ll refrain from suggesting retribution in the form of contaminated baked goods (i.e., Visine cookies) for obvious liability reasons, but if you get caught following any advice pertaining to, say, the old living-room-furniture-counter-clockwise-shift, you’ll have neither legal recourse nor my sympathy; if you couldn’t do it right, you had no business doing it at all.

To give you a taste of the kind of brutally honest yet ultimately helpful advice you can expect from this new feature, I’ll answer a recent question submitted to the maven of propriety, Miss Manners, and published on December 26th. The writer begins, “I am afraid that I am one of those people who tend not to respond to invitations if I don’t wish to accept,” and continues with a lengthy explanation as to why, which I didn’t read, assuming it would only be the simpering drivel of a highly functional neanderthal. I would suggest that the letter writer send out a mass communication to everyone for which she has an address, inviting them to stop wasting their offers of hospitality on such an undeserving wretch as she, and then penny-lock her mailbox before spending the rest of her days under her porch.

I hope I haven’t scared off any potential initial contributors, and you can always submit anonymously if you suspect you may, indeed, be the offending party. But I have faith that none of my loyal followers would require a firm unraveling, and do hope that you’ll drop me a line the next time you find yourself with five responses and twenty guests to your dinner party. I’d love to be of service.

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