DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have had the fantastic luck to have inherited not one but two delicately beautiful china services and lovely sterling service from various relatives. I love to take these items out and share them with my friends and family when entertaining; I enjoy nothing more than to know that the beautiful things I have had the good fortune to come by are contributing to the pleasure of others in my home, and I like to think the continuing use of these heirlooms is a connection back to my family's history.
What would you recommend that I say when my guests protest? I'm always saddened but no longer surprised when someone looks at the table and says I shouldn't have used such fine place settings, that they're afraid they'll break something, or come up with a quip that sounds as though I should feel bad for forcing others to use fragile antiques.
Generally I try to deflect such conversations with something along the lines of my feeling that I value guests enough to put out my best (which, unfortunately, often makes them even more concerned about breakage), or wanting to get use of these nice things. In the event of breakage, my response has been that people are far more important than things, that I can always get another bowl or plate or whatever, and that this is not the first time nor will it be the last. I even point to the chips on several pieces as evidence of years of use.
Nevertheless, I feel very awkward when my guests suggest that I should not be using "the good stuff" for them. Surely it's my choice. How on earth do I convey tactfully that I truly want to get use of these fine things and that I like nothing better than to share them with my friends? I think they're worth it, even if they don't.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is not so sure about that. Criticizing the host's style of entertaining, even in this supposedly self-deprecating way, is rude. There is a whiff of a suggestion there that you are being pretentious.
The responses you are giving are both polite and charming. If these do not discourage that line of conversation, you might take to saying in a slightly hurt tone, "But I think of you as my good friends!"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I recently lost my paternal grandfather, after a lengthy illness. After the wake, I received a letter of condolence from my mother's mother that was rather touching. Is it correct to send a letter of thanks for the condolences or would it be more appropriate to mention it when I see her in person in a few weeks?
GENTLE READER: Couldn't you manage both?
Miss Manners notices that your grandmother did not offer minimal condolences by waiting until she saw you. She took the trouble to write a letter, and you should let her know, in the same way, that you appreciated this. This should not prevent you from also telling her how touched you were.