DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am having a dinner party where I am going to serve a fish casserole of crab, shrimp and scallops and a side dish of steamed fresh asparagus with lemon butter sauce. Do I set the place with fish forks and knives, dinner forks and knives or both?
GENTLE READER: Although etiquette has a reputation for making mealtime difficult, this is false, if not slanderous. Miss Manners has never been able to understand how people can think such mean thoughts about something that is only trying to help.
The rule is to provide only the table implements that are necessary to get the food into the mouth without causing undo stress on the tablecloth, rug or appetites of other diners. Everything you mention on this menu can be eaten with the fish knife and fork, so there is no need to provide a meat knife and fork. The asparagus may even be properly eaten with the fingers, although if you happen to have those lovely little silver asparagus tongs, you will want to provide them.
Oh, that must be how etiquette got its reputation.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am increasingly encountering a problem at social events that I hope you can help me with. It concerns the prevalence in gay social circles of kissing other gay men during greetings and goodbyes.
As a gay man who restricts his kissing to boyfriends (my own) and close family members only, I frequently find myself trying to dodge the proffered lips of fellow party guests. I further note that the kissers generally do not extend this behavior to straight men or to women of any sexual orientation. It is an "honor" reserved almost exclusively for other gay men.
Up to now I have successfully employed your excellent advice for anyone attempting a kiss-dodging: a pre-emptive handshake, friendly smile and cheerful hello or goodbye. Unfortunately, I now sometimes find myself foundering in the post-handshake aftermath.
A small minority of kissers are easy to deal with: They make some remark implying that I must be uncomfortable with my sexuality, which gets them a raised eyebrow, a firm goodbye and an entry onto my "Do Not Invite" mental list. The real problem is the folks who are genuinely trying to be friendly and who are hurt by my desire to impose some sort of limit on public displays of affection (especially ones from which heterosexual men and all women are excluded). These guys won't say anything, but it is apparent that they are a little taken aback by my "unconventional" departure.
Can you suggest a comment suitable for the awkward post-handshake pause that lets the kisser know that: a) he should not take this personally (kiss-bearing women also get pre-emptive handshakes unless they are blood relatives); b) refusing the kiss is not a sign of dislike; and, c) I intend to stand by my nonkissing standards no matter how sad a look I get. I am hoping for a pithy phrase that will convey these sentiments more gracefully than this rather lengthy note.
GENTLE READER: Sorry, no pithy. You will not accomplish your goal of disarming possible feelings of rejection by clever quips at these people's expense.
The phrase you need is, "I am delighted to see you," and Miss Manners' instructions are to boom it out heartily at the first sign of a smoochy approach. This establishes you in advance as welcoming. More importantly, a moving target is harder to hit.