DEAR MISS MANNERS: A large fruit salad, served in a tall stemmed bowl on a plate, was the first course at an annual dinner we attended at a nice restaurant. It was firmly and highly packed, with bite-sized pieces of fruit and juice at the bottom of the bowl.
There was obvious confusion as to which utensil to use. I used my teaspoon, as two were provided, rather than the salad fork, because that is how I was taught, and because I wanted to take up the juice, which I enjoy. Both fork and spoon users found eating the presentation awkward because of the height and packed nature.
Upon removal, the waiter returned my spoon but took away my fork. I felt embarrassed. Which utensil should I have used?
GENTLE READER: Probably your napkin. Juicy fruit in a tall glass is a set-up. If it is served at all, it ought to be for dessert, and dessert may be properly eaten with both a spoon and a fork. Neither would have done a complete job alone, so under the circumstances, your guess was as good as anyone else's.
You are kind to be embarrassed on behalf of a waiter who doesn't even know that a used utensil should be replaced and not returned, but he may have been acting on orders from the management to save dishwater. Miss Manners wouldn't put it past an establishment that serves food that cannot be eaten gracefully.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been appalled by the behavior of the audiences at high-school and junior-high graduation ceremonies I have attended over the last few years.
Instead of holding their applause until the names of all the graduates have been called, as I thought was proper, various levels of applause and cheering are given to each graduate. Nongraduating students stand in small groups to cheer as their friends' names are called, with parents and other adults also taking part in the revelry. In addition to clapping and cheering, people actually bring in plastic horns and cow bells to make noise.
A small minority of graduates receive no applause at all. Although this might mean that their friends and family know how to behave at a graduation, it gives the impression that they are friendless.
I have a child graduating from each of these schools, and I would like to know how I should respond as my children's names are called. In an atmosphere that is certain to resemble that of a basketball game more than a graduation, I am thinking polite applause may be acceptable and will seem positively subdued.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is not opposed to genuine graduation-day exuberance. She is sadly aware that all graduates are doomed thereafter to a lifetime of nightmares about being confronted with taking examinations in courses that they forgot to attend all semester.
But what you and Miss Manners have observed is not exactly exuberance. It is something similar to the old school Valentine's Day, where the names of those receiving Valentines were called out as each card was taken from a box, thus focusing every one's attention on who was popular and who was not. The meaner (and, sadly, therefore often more popular) ones were given to going around the room afterward, asking the outcasts "How many Valentines did you get?"
Eventually, schools abolished this custom on the grounds of emotional cruelty against tender sprouts.
So the sprouts have brought it back. They chose a day when they know that school authorities have relinquished their power over them and, anyway, wouldn't want to dampen the occasion with disapproval. As a result, graduations have, as you have observed, turned into staged popularity contests.
Mannerly parents should warn their children that they do not plan to participate: If there is a request to withhold applause until the end, they will do so; if there is applause after each name, they will applaud each graduate. If a number of parents agree about this, they can warn the entire class, who will not be so eager to hold this contest if their own strongest supporters refuse to play.