DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the years when my husband served in the U.S. Diplomatic Service and we traveled around the world, I saw beautiful displays of fruit at buffets or teas -- including bunches of grapes with the attending silver grape scissors.
We recently retired to a lovely community in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, or as Jack London named it, the Valley of the Moon. So naturally, I thought that since we are living here in the middle of all the vineyards and with all the wonderful table grapes available on the market, it was time to purchase a nice pair of silver grape scissors.
The reaction I have received from every shop I have approached is a puzzled, "Grape scissors?" Even the gift shops in local wineries have never heard of the concept.
Has this very useful tool gone the way of the many other pieces of silver flatware that are no longer used or available?
If I were to make a wild guess, I would say that today people think it is perfectly OK to just use your fingers to rip off the grapes or stand over them picking them off one by one and leaving the little stems sticking up in the air like so many bony little fingers.
GENTLE READER: Eeeeew. Miss Manners always wondered how people managed without grape scissors. She thought they had to sit around with woeful expressions until somebody took pity on them and threw them a grape. Perhaps they had servants who arranged grapes prettily on a platter after they had finished peeling them, and tried to pass it around without letting the grapes roll away.
But now that you mention it, she can understand that in grape-picking country, this might strike folks as slightly effete.
She hopes that does not discourage you from your quest. A pretty pair of grape scissors with a fox motif allows those of us who believe them essential to use them, and those who don't to ignore them and harvest by hand.
Nor should you be discouraged about finding them. Grape scissors are nowhere near as scarce as, for example, terrapin forks or chocolate muddlers, and no respectable dealer in antique silver will be fazed by your request.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received a lot of support and help from friends and co-workers when, as a young adult, I recently moved out on my own. Several gave me household items, dishes and such.
I would like to include small gift certificates in with my thank-yous, but I don't know if I should give everyone equal value gift certificates, or if they should be proportionate to the value of the item they gave me. For example, do I give the person who gave me a couch the same thank-you as someone who gave me a teapot?
GENTLE READER: While commending your eagerness to reciprocate, Miss Manners has to draw your attention to what you are actually proposing to do. You are calculating each favor to pay off your debt at the proper rate, using the barely laundered cash value of the certificates.
Thus you have confused paying back a favor with paying for a favor. Social favors can only be repaid with social favors. By treating kindness like commerce, you are in danger of slighting the very people you want to thank. It is as if you wished to discharge your debt and be rid of them.
You do owe these people something in addition to letters of thanks, but it is future goodwill to be drawn upon should they seem in need of a favor. You might start by inviting them over to see how happily you have used their contributions. But to make a payback with something that can be used for money would be insulting.