DEAR MISS MANNERS: When you want to take the last of anything from the serving plate, can you just take it? Or should you say, as a courtesy, "Would anyone else care for the last piece of chicken?"
I am trying to teach my children decent table manners. If you ask, must each of your siblings say, "No, you go ahead," out of courtesy, even if she or he actually wanted it? If your brother says, "Yes, I want it," must you gracefully allow him to take it, even though he pulls this on you every night?
Does it make a difference if the food is something difficult to split (say, a chicken wing) versus something easy to split (mashed potatoes)?
Does it make a difference whether you are dining at home with your family (still mannerly, of course, but more casual) or a guest at someone else's table? (Maybe the hostess would consider it rude of you to interrupt the conversation with the question?)
GENTLE READER: The rule is that you must leave the last item on the dish for -- you'll never guess whom.
Miss Manners. At least that was the rule in better days. (Better for Miss Manners, that is; worse for everyone else). It was considered greedy-looking to polish off all available food, and children were taught to "leave some for Miss Manners."
A fellow etiquetter, Eleanor Roosevelt, was the one to break the news that Miss Manners' meal ticket had been canceled. In her "Book of Common Sense Etiquette," Roosevelt reported that her grandmother had reversed the rule when she noticed that it wasted food.
Now that you are probably in tears over Miss Manners' travails, she apologizes for digressing. (And thank you, but she always carries her own handkerchief.)
As much as she appreciates your teaching your children table manners, Miss Manners is wary of this little routine. It does not apply in company, because if there is a guest present, the guest should be offered the last piece (without its being called such), and when they are guests, they should wait to be offered. Within the family, you could allow some latitude, while being on the lookout to prevent grabbiness and encourage consideration.
Better yet, teach your children that not everything on the platter has to be finished, and that good children who clear the table and do the dishes are entitled to consume leftovers in the kitchen.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Several friends go online with their computers, but have neither call-waiting or voicemail, nor a second line, and calling their phones often results in a busy signal, a situation that can last for several hours.
If they have called and left a message for me, is it incumbent on me to keep trying to call them back until they are no longer on the phone? Is it rude not to return such calls if one has tried several times to get through? I presume the situation would be the same for a person who spends a lot of time talking on the phone, but using the phone to go online seems to be a far more common occurrence.
GENTLE READER: It depends upon how much you want to reach these people. If you are miffed and don't mind waiting until they realize someone is wrong, Miss Manners admits that you can claim you tried repeatedly, and let it go at that.
Fortunately, we have other means of communication available should you actually want to be in touch. Depending on whether you are more technologically advanced than your friends or less, you could dash off an e-mail or a post card to say, "Tried to reach you but couldn't get through -- call me when you get a chance."