DEAR MISS MANNERS: A friend and I went out to eat at a barbecue place, a nice one with waiters and cloth napkins. When we were finished eating but still at the table, my friend said he was looking for a toothpick. I told him they probably had them at the door, as it is impolite to pick one's teeth at the table.
My friend disagreed. He said even if it is generally true, there should have been an exception at this place because we were eating barbecue.
I said it's disgusting no matter what the environment. He also blows his nose loudly at the table; we have had the same discussion regarding that revolting habit. My friend says he will abide by your advice.
GENTLE READER: Good; then you will not be troubled again by these two instances of poor manners.
Miss Manners also faults his reasoning. Why would we bother having a rule against picking one's teeth at the table -- as indeed we do -- only to suspend it in cases of food that is apt to get stuck in the teeth?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am in an interracial marriage. Although our parents couldn't be more different (mine are Scandinavian of Midwestern conservative stock) and my wife's mother (who had been in show business), is a VERY flamboyant woman who, although near 60, wears falls that fall halfway down her back, 3-inch false eyelashes and 5-inch nails that look more like bird talons, and rides a motorcycle, they all get along very well together.
Therefore I was quite surprised when a friend of the family told me that they were making fun of my wife's mother in private. When I confronted my parents about this, they told me, that they would never be unkind to her or say anything negative about her in front of me, my wife or children but I shouldn't be offended over something that was said in private not intended for my family to hear, especially because my mother-in-law is so unusual. My sibling told me not to worry about, she said just because people make fun of someone, doesn't mean they dislike the person.
Although I love my parents, I don't feel quite the same about them now. But if they treat her well, should I just get over it?
GENTLE READER: Of course families make fun of one another. That's what families do. Sometimes it is affectionate and sometimes it is nasty. And sometimes it is just because even the fondest of families feel free to joke among themselves about one another as long as they are not hurtful by confronting the subject or disloyal by talking to outsiders.
Can you honestly say that you and your wife have never had a private giggle about some relative you genuinely love? So yes, if relations among the in-laws are otherwise good, you should get over it.
What worries Miss Manners are your opening and closing statements. You would feel differently about your parents if they were suddenly revealed to have racist tendencies -- but by your own description, race is far from your mother-in-law's most obvious characteristic. Personal taste can be within the teasing range of nonmalicious people.