DEAR MISS MANNERS: On a recent flight across the country I was able to enjoy the luxury of a first class seat, which included the amenities of a gourmet meal served with linen, silver and a plastic knife. The stranger in the next seat shared with me his obvious enjoyment of the meal through his loud smacking of lips and open-mouthed chewing of the food.
During the time I lived in Asia, I discovered that there are entire worlds of people who feel there is nothing wrong with such an auditory delight in the food they are eating. The noise can stand my hair on end, but my overseas experiences have taught me to focus instead on my own food, and to appreciate the wide variety of dining mores we humans have created.
Perhaps the tedium of the flight amplified my annoyance, but several times I found myself looking over at my seat mate, who outwardly appeared to share my ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic background, with the words forming in my mouth, "Will you please close your mouth when you eat?"
This is not the first time I have found myself in such a situation while eating in public, and I would like your support to make sure I eschew temptation the next time it arises. Am I correct in my belief that it is the responsibility of my seat mate's family to guide him in his table manners, and that I should keep my mouth closed, or would you offer a gentle correction?
GENTLE READER: By all means, eschew temptation. Miss Manners is afraid that should you request him to keep his mouth shut, you would encourage him to suggest that you keep yours shut.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband's family have some customs that are different from those I grew up with. My father-in-law says these are the "classier" way of doing things (his word, not mine). I think they're etiquette misdemeanors. Please let me know who's right:
1. When someone in the family names a baby boy after his father, the child becomes Christopher Mosely Trenton II. Not Jr. I think he should be Jr. so II is reserved for boys named after uncles, grandfathers, etc.
2. Everyone on my husband's side of the family cuts their meat into bite-size pieces before eating. I think the proper thing to do is cut one bite at a time. (This is particularly sticky issue because I am now trying to teach my young children proper table manners.)
3. My large extended family is blessed with many living elders. Over the years, the grandparents among us have taken on affectionate names such as "Nana," "Papa," "Gram," "PopPop," etc. My husband's family contends that the only proper name for a grandparent is Grandma or Grandpa. Anything else is rude and insulting, they say. In order to differentiate between them, we must use last names: "Grandma Trenton" "Grandpa Redding", etc. Does Miss Manners agree?
GENTLE READER: That you should be wary of people who talk about the "classy" way of doing things?
No use thinking about that. It's too late. You've married into the family. And yes, they are wrong on all counts, but presumably they have redeeming qualities or you wouldn't have married their son. (Miss Manners can't believe she said that, and hopes it will not be used as an invitation for open season on denouncing in-laws.) You will have a happier life if you refer to the differences in a tone of respect as "your way of doing things" and "my family's way," rather than arguing right (which you are) and wrong (which they are).