DEAR MISS MANNERS: Everyone knows the proper thing for a man to do during the playing of our national anthem is to remove his hat or baseball cap. Are women also expected to remove their hats or caps?
GENTLE READER: At the risk of making more trouble, Miss Manners suggests thinking of this in terms of the hat rather than its bearer. Gentlemen's hats and caps are removed as a sign of respect, but ladies' hats are not.
When the rule was made, ladies did not wear baseball caps; if they choose to do so, they must abide by the rules that go with them. Miss Manners would appreciate no one's taking this argument to its logical conclusion in regard to gentlemen wearing ladies' hats.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: The grilling season is upon us, and I have a dilemma. Our good friends invite us over for cookouts all summer long. How do we tell them that their burgers turn out like hockey pucks and their steaks are like burnt leather without taking over the grill?
When we have baked potatoes, they bring out a giant squeeze bottle of margarine. Their salt and pepper shakers come in a twin pack from the local store and might have been around for years. We usually bring our share of the food with us. Should we start bringing the condiments with us, too?
GENTLE READER: Why? Do hockey pucks and leather taste better with real butter and fresh salt and pepper?
You have a dilemma, all right, but it is not whether to bring seasonings to these wretched picnics, and certainly not how to tell your hosts that you hate their food. What an idea!
Your dilemma is whether to ignore the menu because you enjoy the company, or whether you should classify them as cold-weather friends and take the summer off. Miss Manners would prefer that you avoid this choice by cooking for them yourselves, either by giving your own cookouts or offering to bring main features of the menu to theirs.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: During a recent lunch in a small cafe, a relative informed me that unlike cloth napkins, paper napkins are to be kept to the side of the plate and not to be spread over one's lap. As most of the restaurants I dine in provide paper napkins, I would like to know what is correct.
GENTLE READER: Does your relative imagine that paper napkins have achieved the dignity of having their own etiquette rules?
Only negative ones, Miss Manners assures you. That is, if paper napkins are issued, they should be up to the job of mopping and wiping whatever food the restaurant serves. Oddly, enough, the choice between cloth and paper seems to be made in reverse of their usefulness -- cloth being used when the food rarely touches the fingers or drips on the chin, and paper being used when it does both.
So although the same rules apply to paper napkins as to real ones, a hapless diner might find it expedient to request a second paper napkin kept aside for heavy use so that the one on the lap does not soak through.