DEAR MISS MANNERS: There is a minor point of place setting that I have been wondering about for some time now. The blade of the knife faces the plate in a properly laid place setting. Why?
With an asymmetrical silver pattern, the knife handle would look wrong if the blade faced the spoon, of course, but with a symmetrical pattern it would hardly be noticeable.
GENTLE READER: Minor? Pointing knives at the dinner table?
Have you not noticed that when you are busy with your food, tossing off careless remarks that someone might take amiss, everybody around you is armed?
Cardinal Richelieu certainly noticed. He is said to be responsible for the ruling that the tips of all knives brought to the table must be blunted. Ostensibly, this was to discourage diners from using their knives to pick their teeth, but there had been more than a few problem with diners picking on one another. Keeping the sharp part pointed toward yourself is the least you can do as a show of faith that no matter how provocative, boring or disgusting your fellow diners may turn out to be, you, at least, are willing to let them live until dessert.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm in a family disaster. Prior to my sister's 50th birthday, I had her for dinner and asked when can we celebrate her birthday. She said she did not want a party, she was going on a three-week vacation, and we could celebrate when she got back. I have a beautiful gold bracelet I want to give her.
In the meantime, my husband and I made a commitment to go to dinner and theater for a friend's birthday two weeks later. Three days before, my mom frantically called, saying she forgot to make reservations for my sister's birthday, and could we make it on that date.
I said I couldn't, but I called my sister, apologized, and asked if we could take her out another night.
Well, my sister refused to go any night, ever, detailing what a terrible a person I was. She recalled, "You scared me at night so I couldn't sleep at 5 years old, you forced me into the deep end of the swimming pool when I was only 7 years old, you did X...when I was 9, you did Y when I was 11, You...Z when I was 13..." and so on, implying that I have always selfishly mistreated her. She accused me of purposely planning not to go to her dinner with our parents. Then she hung up on me.
This incident will live on forever in my sister's mind. I have written to her both apologizing and inviting her to an elegant dinner at a five-star hotel. I love my sister. How do I get out of this mess?
GENTLE READER: Just send her the bracelet and stop worrying about it.
Miss Manners doesn't expect your sister to dissolve in gratitude; people who keep decades-old accounts of their grievances will always declare reasons for citing them. As there is nothing else you can do to derail this, at least you will know that you have been generous as well as reasonable.