Dear Miss Manners: How should we address President Bill Clinton if his wife wins the title of president? Some have suggested First Gentleman. Some have stated that he would still be known as president. Who makes these decisions?
Gentle Reader: It is one thing to make protocol decisions, which come under the Department of State, and quite another thing to enforce them — especially if the most prominent scofflaws are former presidents themselves.
Miss Manners knows that they mean to flatter one another, but it is at the cost of the dignity of the office they each have held. “President of the United States” is a unique title that should not be diluted.
Surely the prospect of a White House where people are perpetually asking “Which President Clinton do you mean?” should put a stop to that.
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“First lady” is a nickname, rather than an official title, although it is so thoroughly used that “first gentleman” might also be, especially by those who find it amusing.
The correct protocol is that a former president reverts to the highest nonexclusive title he held. Thus George Washington was again known as “General Washington,” and Mr. Clinton — the title “Mr.” is never insulting — would be properly styled “Gov. Clinton.”
Dear Miss Manners: My family and I are traveling from our small town to New York City next month, and we need to know the polite and compassionate way to deal with panhandlers.
I am not averse to giving money, but we cannot give to every person that asks. Is there a polite way to decline?
Gentle Reader: Though panhandling by desperate people is almost always unwelcome, Miss Manners agrees with you that the act is not automatically an affront, nor does it justify rudeness. Nor, barring threat or intimidation, is it kind to ignore such a request.
“I am sorry” is the polite way to refuse, after which it would be best not to remain long enough to invite an argument.
This is a useful dodge to learn, wherever you may live. The same response works for solvent acquaintances, even those canny enough to disguise the request for personal funds with words like “charitable donation.”
Dear Miss Manners: A cousin of mine leaves her car at my house. She stops by once a year to drive it, then returns it.
I have decided to ask for some payment for its sitting here. I checked around and found out how much storage places charge, and I decided to charge her a third of what it would cost if she had taken it to a storage business.
She insists I should not charge family. I feel like I am being used for free storage. If I were to leave something at a friend’s or family member’s place, I would offer to pay something and not expect it to be free.
Gentle Reader: Your cousin has a point, although she conveniently ignores your own, namely that family members cannot be expected to provide unlimited or open-ended warehousing space.
Miss Manners is aware of only one exception to this rule: providing a good home for a child’s stuffed animals, which is only binding so long as said child continues to attend college classes.
She therefore recommends you tell your cousin that, unfortunately, you can no longer look after her car 364 days a year, so if she leaves it on the street nearby, you cannot be expected to protect it.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.