DEAR MISS MANNERS: At a brunch with a bunch of ladies, I ordered buttered toast, and was served two pieces of toast with the butter on the side. I proceeded to butter both pieces while they were still warm, and return them to the plate. I then broke off small pieces, applied jam, and ate them.
One of the women, who has appointed herself resident guru of manners, told me that what I did was incorrect. We won't go into the rudeness of her correcting people publicly, but what is the accepted procedure? Before people became fat conscious, the toast would have been served buttered, so the question would never have come up. Was I wrong?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners cannot skip over the information that this Guru of Manners had her nose in your butter plate. No doubt that enabled the lady to get her nose buttered all at once, but that is wrong.
Amateurs fail to understand that knowing the rules is not sufficient. As in the legal profession, a judge must also know how to weigh the circumstances and consequences of applying the rules.
A polite person may sometimes be forced to choose between conflicting etiquette rules, in which case the correct one is the one that least inconveniences others. It is true that bread should be buttered in bite-sized pieces, but if you wanted your bread buttered while it was warm, you were right to do it yourself rather than to call over the waiter as you finished each bite and send the next bit of bread back to the kitchen to be reheated.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have quite a 21st-century etiquette question. Like most e-mail users, I periodically receive SPAM -- those annoying, widely distributed pieces of junk email that usually include some sort of plea to "forward the e-mail to everyone you know."
I find these impersonal and rude and usually I simply delete them. Lately, though, I've been wondering if I should do something more. I have learned about various web sites that point out that these e-mails are hoaxes. I have wondered recently if it would be appropriate to point the senders of these e-mail to these sites.
For example, the other day I was one of about 40 recipients who received from my priest a poem purportedly originating from a New York doctor. Supposedly three cents would be donated to the American Cancer Society for each time it was forwarded. Within a minute, I was able to find a message on the American Cancer Society's web site saying the e-mail was a hoax and that no money would be sent if the e-mail was forwarded, as well as a message on the site where the doctor works, saying he authored no such e-mail.
Miss Manners, should I inform my well-meaning priest that the e-mail was a hoax? Should I tell other people who forward similar e-mails? Or would I come across as rude and insensitive?
I somehow want to spare them the time and embarrassment of forwarding what so many people seem to know now are hoaxes, but I also don't want to come across as ungrateful for what I assume is their attempt to spread thoughtful messages.
GENTLE READER: Oh, Miss Manners remembers this problem existing way back in the 20th century. But let us not dwell on the past.
Loath as she is to add to the e-mail junk load, she suggests that you take one more minute to compose a polite message to the well-meaning priest and his mailing list, to spare them further embarrassment. What would make it polite is a tone of appreciation and commiseration: "I am sorry to say that someone is taking advantage of your kind intentions..."