DEAR MISS MANNERS: While dining, I usually keep my free hand on my lap. A friend told me that one must always keep both hands on the table. What is the proper, formal way of doing this? I would like to know since I often go to business lunches and dinners.
GENTLE READER: Your friend is European. For reasons best known to themselves, Europeans prefer to be able to see the location of the hands of everyone at the table, so that a hand that is not in active use should be parked like a paw on the table's edge. Miss Manners expects Americans to follow the equally formal American system, which mandates that the unused hand be parked on its owner's lap. However, she also calls attention to the fact that this may require a certain amount of self-control.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I love my in-laws dearly, and every summer, my husband and I fly to their country to spend a month in the lovely home they purchased and furnished 30 years ago. They always extend warm hospitality and make us feel welcome -- they purchase and prepare foods we like, re-arrange furniture, make plenty of closet and drawer space, etc. We always help with cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc.
Here's the problem: Their 30-year-old beds and sofas all sag terribly and are very lumpy. My back aches after only one night, lasting into the day. I have tried every possible sleeping surface in their home. There are no hotels nearby, even if we could afford to stay in one year after year.
My in-laws are middle class, and could, I believe, afford a new, simple bed or sofa bed, but they find all their furniture very comfortable and see no reason to change anything.
I hate feeling like the "spoiled American," but I'm already dreading the back pain, and this year I am pregnant. I don't want to hurt their feelings. I don't want to force them to spend money.
Can we somehow select and pay for new beds for their guest room? How do we approach it?
GENTLE READER: In the etiquette business, we always tell hosts to sleep in their own guest rooms once in a while, just to make sure they are comfortable.
Nobody ever does this, of course. Not even Miss Manners. She resolves to, but before she knows it, her dainty little slippered feet have carried her right back to her own bed. She falls asleep comforting herself that it doesn't really matter, because if there were anything wrong, surely her dear relatives who often stay over would have told her.
Only people who are on wary terms with their visiting relatives would take such information as an insult. And in relationships like that, it is not necessary to say anything, because the visits are going to be brief.
Besides, you and your husband are offering a present, rather than a correction. You need only say, "We're buying you new beds for the guest room, so we want you to come and pick out what you like." If it comes out that they are particularly attached to the beds they have, your present can be to have the frames fixed and the springs and mattresses replaced. The only reason you need supply is that the beds are old and it was time.