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41 JUNE 2002
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Manners on manners

With her direct-hit mastery of the mot juste, it would be fun to have Miss Manners along on a shift over on the more serious flank of life with kids. Miss Manners” Guide to Rearing Perfect Children by Judith Martin (Hamish Hamilton)

Miss Manners is a wow when it comes to rearing perfect children. Judith Martin is the author behind agony columnist Miss Manners whose replies to (on the whole literate) questions so often thrust single-mindedly to the questions behind the questions.

A mother writes to complain about the length of her “typical teenager" daughter’s finger nails.

The reply (often in the third person): “Miss Manners' first suggestion was to find something more significant to fight about."

Another mother, planning to give her daughter a slumber party for her tenth birthday, asks for advice.

Miss Manners: You have chosen one of the most complicated forms of human socialisation to honour your daughter’s birthday. Compared to the pubescent slumber party, the sit-down dinner for forty with service – la Russe is child's play. The difficulty is that for the children to think it a success there must seem to be a state of relative lawlessness ..."

From a child: Dear Miss Manners: Is there anything wrong with leaving a hairbrush face-up on the table, even if it isn’t going to be eaten on for three more hours?

Miss Manners replies: “Yes."

Another, a nine-year-old, is angry with her friend across the street for not inviting her to a party: “My mother says ignore it. Actually, I want to punch this kid on the nose and inform her she’ll never darken my door way again. What do you suggest?"

Miss Manners advises her against the punch. “You may ask why not. The obvious answer is that blood ruins white gloves."

An aunt: “What do you recommend for exhibitionism?"

Reply: “You can’t have an exhibition without an audience."

Replying to a question about sex:

"If you are to teach the whole truth about sex, you cannot possibly stop with naming parts and describing what goes where, but must also fearlessly explain prevailing social attitudes ... There you are, teaching that sex is beautiful, no doubt, but neglecting to indicate that the police do not consider it so when practised in a public park."

Et cetera. You will enjoy the wry, truthful, witty writing.

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