DEAR MISS MANNERS: Several months ago I read in some food magazine that when one finishes the entree while dining in a restaurant, it is considered good manners and considerate to the server or busboy to use your napkin to wipe clean a small area at the edge of the plate so the fingers won't be "soiled" when the plate is picked up for removal.
As I recall, the article I read said it mattered not if the napkin was cloth or paper or whether the restaurant was "high class" or a greasy spoon.
My wife and daughters rebuke me for doing this every time we eat out, and they believe I never really read such a "stupid" item. Now I'm beginning to wonder if I did myself, as none of our friends or associates have ever heard of such a "courtesy." How does Miss Manners feel about this?
GENTLE READER: Both more and less delicately than your wife and daughters. She would never call such a well-meaning idea stupid, but -- oh, yuck!
Here is why this renegade "rule" is stupid. Whoops. What Miss Manners means to say was, here is why this supposedly thoughtful notion is actually thoughtless:
It assumes that the server doesn't know how to do the job properly, which requires gripping the plate from beneath, with a steadying thumb touching only the rim. Anyone who carries a plate with thumb planted into its surface is not going far in the restaurant business, where people do not care to eat from a plate that has received that personal touch.
It assumes that you don't know how to eat without leaving your plate entirely smeared to its edges.
It shows a callous disregard for the person who must pick up or launder a napkin that has been used as a cleaning rag.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A friend who will be retiring soon has worked 30 years for a major company. The company will be giving a retirement celebration for him.
Is it ethical for his wife and daughter-in-law also to give a retirement party? I have never heard of individuals giving retirement parties. Normally it is the company that gives the party.
We live several thousand miles from them and will not be able to attend either event. Other than sending a nice card, should we also include a gift?
GENTLE READER: Ethical? Unless there were threats used in a shake-down to suggest that sending a present would be prudent, Miss Manners sees nothing unethical about a family party celebrating retirement. Many companies have skipped doing this, and colleagues or relatives have marked the occasion so that a worker doesn't simply slip out unnoticed.
Even in this case, where there is also a company event, she doesn't object to a private celebration, although it is odd to endow it with such importance as to assume that guests would be willing to travel to attend. A parting gift for faithful service is, however, the sole responsibility of the employer. You need send only your congratulations.