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Perhaps a question of intent

Dear Miss Manners: Is it wrong that the first thing that occurred to me while watching the lovely Audrey Hepburn in the opening scene of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was, "She's eating while wearing her gloves!"?

Gentle Reader: Let us hope that it is exactly the reaction the filmmakers intended you to have. It serves as a tip-off that Holly Golightly, the character that Miss Hepburn plays, is not, shall we say, a lady of refinement, however engaging she may be.

There are so many unintentionally misleading etiquette cues in drama -- not just movies, but plays, opera and highfalutin television -- that Miss Manners cannot be sure this was done on purpose. She hopes so. But in a previous life, as a drama and film critic, she became sadly aware that ignorance of etiquette, especially in historical drama, means that one can never be sure.

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Rude beyond belief

Dear Miss Manners: We have a couple of very vocal families of atheists in our neighborhood. I recognize that their personal beliefs are none of my business, and that freedom of religion means freedom to choose nonbelief as well. I respect their right to refuse donations to charities whose mission they do not support, and so forth.

The problem that I do have is in their response to people of faith. In our small city, religious organizations frequently host fundraisers in support of their charitable endeavors. These include dinners, carnivals and so forth, and church members can regularly be found handing out fliers in public areas of the city.

Not content to say, "No, thank you," and move on, my well-educated adult neighbors choose to express outrage at being approached and to mock the intelligence and the beliefs of the volunteers.

I see similar behavior from staunch members of either political party in our town.

Is there a polite way to intervene and protect the dignity of someone who is simply trying to do what they believe is right, and that they have the legal right to do?

Gentle Reader: If only. Righteousness and rudeness are a popular combination these days, which is odd because there is nothing right about rudeness.

Whatever the cause, rudeness puts its advocates in the wrong. It also damages any cause. Miss Manners doubts that your neighbors want to plant the idea that lack of respect for other human beings is a tenet -- or an inevitable result -- of atheism. But that is what they are doing.

Still, it would be rude of you to chastise them. What you can do in defense of those they embarrass is to say, "I believe that their religion would require them to respect you and allow you to express your beliefs."

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Dining is a chore

Dear Miss Manners: I frequently dine with a friend and her almost 92-year-old mother. Lately it has become a chore, not a pleasure, as the daughter wants to "correct" her mother on dates and many things that have happened in the past.

The constant reprimands and spats render me loath to keep meeting them for these occasions. I fear a negative response from either or both of them if I say something constructively in hopes of alleviating the situation. What to do?

Gentle Reader: Not taking sides is a good idea, Miss Manners agrees. But you must know these ladies pretty well by now -- well enough to say, "Would you two fight that out later? I'd like to hear the story."