DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I was 5 years old, my father was transferred to England and our family lived there for about three years. We all adopted many of the English customs, especially us kids, because we wanted to "fit in."
Well, 40 years later, while cutting meat I still eat with my fork in the left hand, tines pointed down, knife in right hand, and take a bite of food without transferring fork to the right hand or turning it over. My wife thinks that the upside-down fork insertion into the mouth is crude and looks like I'm shoveling food like Jethro Bodine eating his cereal on "The Beverly Hillbillies."
I've tried to explain to her that the English have been using silverware a whole lot longer than Americans and that the American method of cutting a bite, putting down the knife, switching hands with the fork, then taking a bite with the right hand is way less efficient. (I'm an engineer and do tend to overanalyze things!) She should be glad I don't still mix my mashed potatoes and peas together and spread them on the back of the fork.
I would guess that the Brits, on the whole, are way more couth than us Yanks and that the left-handed fork is the preferred method in the etiquette book. There's nothing really riding on this, but a ruling in my favor from a person of your stature would sure help. I don't get to win many arguments.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners hopes that in your professional life, you obtain the facts of a case before you attempt to analyze it. It helps win arguments.
You have not done so here. Leaving aside the general manners comparison (where do you get your notions about British gentility -- from the goings-on of their royalty?), you are in error about the British method of eating being older than the American method. Early European immigrants brought with them the eating methods prevailing in Europe at the time, and their American descendents have continued to use them. It was the Europeans who streamlined their method -- or, as your wife would observe, made it cruder. Efficiency is not considered a virtue in dining.
Etiquette books do allow the European method to Europeans, although a 3-year stint in childhood is not much of a claim. No self-respecting American would advise others to abandon their perfectly good tradition in an attempt to seem British.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: An acquaintance of mine recently informed me and others, through e-mail, that our children would not be invited to her child's birthday party due to the large number of possible guests. She was very apologetic and hoped that this would not harm our relationship.
I had thought not to invite her child to my own child's party for similar reasons. Should I now inform her so, as she did for me, or am I right in thinking that this approach is a little presumptuous and rude?
GENTLE READER: The announcement that you -- or in this case, your child -- did not make the cut when a guest list was scaled back to only the most desirable guests is not Miss Manners' idea of a charming social form. You did not seem to care for it, either. So why would you consider adopting it?