DEAR MISS MANNERS: I find myself stunned at most people’s table manners. For example: breaking bread/rolls and buttering each bite, using a thumb to push food onto a fork, correct utensil usage (using a place spoon for soup), cutting up an entire entree salad at once, serving coffee after dessert, leaving napkins on the table at end of a meal, passing salt and pepper together, etc.
I never say anything, but just wonder if the etiquette rules I was taught, and followed in a very upper-level hospitality position, have been canceled.
GENTLE READER: It is never a good idea to monitor other people’s table manners, and not only because you are apt to spill something all over yourself while you do so.
Miss Manners notices that you are already agitated, because you have mixed up what should and what should not be done, and thrown in some general rules.
Just to clarify:
Bread and rolls should be broken into small pieces and buttered individually; thumbs should not be used as pushers; the so-called place spoon is a medium-sized oval spoon that can be used (as the teaspoon should not be) for soup or dessert; napkins should be put to the left of the plate at the end of the meal, and salt and pepper should be passed together.
That people violate these and other basic rules does not mean that they have been canceled, any more than a rising burglary rate demonstrates that the law now permits it. So no, the Etiquette Council did not say, “Oh, go ahead, plough in with your hands, who cares?”
But it did resolve to refrain from watching.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was invited to a wedding by a family who chooses to have no other contact with me. With the invitation came a bridal registry, most items being chances to finance aspects of the couple’s overseas honeymoon. I added up some of the other small choices on the registry, wrote a check for that amount and sent it with regrets that I wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding.
The check went uncashed for six months. Then I received a thank-you card with my check enclosed, thanking me for my good wishes, but with the suggestion that I donate this money to a charity of my choice. I chose not to respond to the couple in any way. Your response?
GENTLE READER: Well, we can rule out the possibility that these people were insulted by being offered money. Miss Manners despairs of thinking that such delicacy still exists. Certainly not among people who blatantly asked their guests to pay their wedding bills.
Returning a present to its donor is also a traditional insult, although that, too, seems to be forgotten by those who ask their benefactors to try harder to please them.
In this case, it does seem that an insult was intended, which makes it all the more odd that the family should have broken the estrangement by inviting you to the wedding. You were generous to send a present at all, but perhaps they thought you hadn’t given enough money. Miss Manners agrees with you that they seem the right sort of people from whom it is wise to be estranged.
(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, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)