DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a birthday party for my friend, I had a pot luck luncheon for a group of friends, all retired, who sew together. I placed the entrees on a buffet table and put the desserts, including a hand-sculpted cake, in the refrigerator. My cobbler came out of the oven, so I had to place it on the dessert table to cool.
One woman jumped up and said, "Oh, I'm just eating dessert." Everyone was still eating entrees, and I explained that I intended to serve the cobbler with a sauce after "Happy Birthday" was sung and candles were blown out.
She went to the table and dug into the cobbler, and she was joined by several others. I said sharply, "Please wait for everyone," but they ignored me, so I removed the cobbler. They say that I was rude. What do you say?
GENTLE READER: To guests who ignore their hostess' plans and requests in order to snatch at the dessert early? To hostesses who snatch away food while their guests are eating it?
Miss Manners can only hope that it was your friend's third birthday you were celebrating, and that you will all have learned rudimentary party manners before she turns 4.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I hold a very responsible and visible position in the community, have served on countless boards, been involved in many fund-raising ventures for nonprofits and must attend many events because of my job responsibilities. I have a difficult strain of rheumatoid arthritis and need a wheelchair to get around.
Many of these meetings, parties and social gatherings take place, as you know, in private homes. Most, if not 99 percent of these homes are inaccessible to users of wheelchairs, walkers or crutches.
Of course, most hosts will and have offered to carry me into their homes, but this is demeaning, even though unintentional. Bathrooms and hallways are not accessible, and by law, they are not required or expected to be. Fortunately, accommodations can easily be made.
If I'm invited, should I accept and then enlighten my host to the availability of new, cheap and portable ramps (which can be rented for as little as $15)? Or should I just refuse with no explanation? Or should I refuse with an explanation that may hurt feelings or cause the host to feel guilty? How would you handle this dilemma if you were a wheelchair user or host?
GENTLE READER: In a responsible and visible way. Which is to say that Miss Manners does not consider mysterious absences or assumptions about spreading guilt to be helpful, much less enlightening.
She asks you to consider how you would handle things if the meeting were proposed at a location where parking is difficult. Surely you -- and everybody else -- would say, "Fine, but what do we do about parking?" The host might propose a solution, or might concede that it would be more convenient to meet elsewhere, but no one is likely to be nursing hurt feelings.
She asks you to stop hedging and to say pleasantly and regretfully, "I'd really like to be there, but I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to get in unless you want to go to the trouble of renting a ramp," and to decline any offers to carry you with a simple, "Thanks, but I really don't like to do that."