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Mon, May 20

Dear Annie: Why do we have etiquette?

Dear Annie: I'm wondering whether you could weigh in on a disagreement my wife and I have.

As a daughter of former hippies, she was not taught etiquette or social graces when she was growing up. Most of the time, her irreverence is charming to me, and her questioning of authority and societal norms is attractive.

When it comes to me, I tend to be a pleaser and thus try to have good manners.

I mentioned the other day that etiquette exists so that we are kind to others. My wife balked at that idea. From what I surmise, she basically thinks that a bunch of old men in wigs sat down one day and decided, for example, that people should not chew with their mouths full. I think the rule that people should not chew with their mouths full exists because other people find open-mouthed chewing disgusting.

Could you please give your thoughts on this? Honestly, I was completely floored by my wife's opinion -- somehow this had never come up in 11 years of marriage -- but it explains so much about her. -- Polite Guy

Dear Polite Guy: I'm with you. Etiquette, at its heart, isn't a set of irrelevant rules that some pinky-raising white-gloved elites impose upon the masses; it's a living, breathing collective agreement of how we ought to communicate respect to one another. Perhaps your wife could stop looking at manners as burdens and start regarding them as opportunities -- chances to say "I care" with her actions. It's not as if such actions demand too much effort. Sending a thank-you card, for example, takes five minutes and about 50 cents; chewing with one's mouth closed requires no more effort than chewing with it open.

Unfortunately, as with a second language, it's much easier to learn politeness as a child than as an adult. I'm not sure how much you or I could change her mind on the subject at this point. But you're not wrong for trying. And if she continues to scoff at manners, rest assured that her behavior reflects on her alone, not you.

Dear Annie: I'd like to share my response to "74-Year-Old Wallflower," the lifelong bachelor who was wondering how to break in to dating now:

Buy some dancing shoes and take up ballroom dancing! You'll learn a skill that deters aging, improves memory, gets you moving, makes you happy and gets you socializing with wonderful people (and may win you a date with a wonderful woman). The benefits of social dancing are amazing, and you can usually find classes at your local senior center or American Legion post, or you can learn super fast by signing up for private lessons at a local dance studio. In no time, "Wallflower," you will become a bright and happy daisy on the dance floor. -- Janet S.

Dear Janet: You are not the only person who wrote in to say that "74-Year-Old Wallflower" should take up ballroom dancing. It sounds like a fabulous way to make friends and stay healthy. Thanks for the suggestion.

Dear Annie: Recently, someone wrote to you asking about whether men should always pay for dates now. I agree that the one issuing the invitation should pay for a first date. But I do not appreciate the term "to go Dutch," which is an old slur based on the supposed excessive frugality of the people of Holland. Try "50-50" instead, please. -- Diane

Dear Diane: I had no idea that some consider the origin of that phrase pejorative, and I apologize for using it. My dictionaries, which usually indicate when terms are offensive, do not note that. Some people say that the term stems from the concept of Dutch doors. Of course, I meant no offense to the people of Holland. Regardless, "50-50" works for me. Thank you for writing.

"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book -- featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette -- is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.

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