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Surely all that employers need in the way of etiquette guidance is, "Treat your employees as you would like to be treated."


For some, it is apparently too much of a stretch to think of nannies, interns, household help and other personal assistants as being seriously comparable to themselves. What would such people want with defined hours, discretionary income, sick leave, paid vacation and clearly delineated job descriptions that cannot be stretched without mutual agreement and additional compensation?

Furthermore, it is unfair to expect them to understand the burden of running a large establishment. They cannot imagine how their bosses envy their being able to do their own small parts and then be done, free of worry and responsibility.

As it is, they get the pleasure and excitement of being an intimate part of something beyond their own modest lives. What is more, they are treated as members of their employees' families.

Do you begin to see why Miss Manners is not willing to let "Do unto others" (itself a dangerous shortening of the excellent and noble Golden Rule) carry the entire burden of etiquette?

It is certainly the basis of manners, in both the moral and practical sense, so she is careful to avoid denying its importance. Both humanity and society depend on acknowledging that others have feelings just as we do, and tempering our own behavior so as to avoid tweaking them unnecessarily.

But perhaps we are not so good at figuring them out. Consider the easy confidence with which people say, "Oh, he won't mind" and "I'm sure she won't care."

"There will be a lot of people there, so he won't mind if we don't show." "She doesn't care about birthdays." "They won't mind if we drop by." "I knew you wouldn't care if I told them about your problems."

When it turns out that these people do mind and care, the perpetrators are bewildered. "Well, I wouldn't have minded," they say, or "I can't imagine caring about something so silly."

Maybe that is true, and maybe it isn't. It is easy to romanticize the tolerance we expect others to show us. Often these are the people who scream the loudest when they are on the receiving end of these supposedly unimportant slights.

But even if they genuinely wouldn't care, others apparently do. This is why etiquette does not depend on one grand principle to inspire considerate behavior, but supplements it with specific rules and duties.

To get back to the employers -- Miss Manners can understand what happens when they put themselves into the places of their closest employees. They can truthfully say they would consider it such an honor and a privilege to be associated with themselves that technicalities concerning wages and hours would be of secondary importance.

And anyway, those things don't count among family members, as such employees are magnanimously considered.

However, the family member they seem to have in mind is Cinderella.

Miss Manners has a new general guideline for these employers to try:

Treat your employees as if they were writing a book about you.

One-way street

Dear Miss Manners: I've been married to my lovely wife for eight years. We have always celebrated our anniversary in grand style. I have commemorated significant years with jewels and always with a romantic dinner.

We are both working professionals, and I was wondering if it is appropriate for me to receive anything in return (non-physical).

Gentle Reader: Did you really have to add that at the end?

Miss Manners was about to give you a stirring yet touching speech about reciprocity in marriage, in the hope of persuading your wife to see if the jeweler also carries cufflinks. But after you mentioned the notion of physical acts as reciprocation for jewels, she was no longer in the mood.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at

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