DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was raised with the understanding that a spoon was to be used only with ice cream (unless it comes with cake) or soup (and a few other exceptions).
Lately, I notice at many family-style restaurants servers will bring a spoon with cake or pie. Somewhat understandable, I suppose, because of the number of small children served, but I can feel myself bristle. If the waiter hasn't already made his escape, I politely ask for a fork to be provided. I was especially surprised at a very upscale restaurant when only a spoon was provided to eat a firm, thick-crusted tart.
So I started doing some research. I could not find a stated rule for the use of spoons. I did come across a statement by one woman who said her mother taught her that peas were to be eaten with a spoon -- eating peas with a fork was "common." That sounds completely backward to me.
Can you help me uncover the truth about spoons? By the way, is it OK to cut (vegetables and soft meat) with a fork?
GENTLE READER: Are you sure you are up to hearing the truth about flatware? Miss Manners must warn you that there is some vicious competition going on in the most ordinary and innocent-looking place setting.
The fork is the late-comer here, having been in widespread western use for only a few centuries. But it quickly bullied its way to the top of the hierarchy and established the rule that everything that can be eaten with the fork alone should be. (And even some things that can't be, such as peas; your mother's acquaintance was sadly mistaken.)
The knife and the spoon had to settle for the leftovers. Well, not the leftovers you eat straight from the refrigerator while Miss Manners averts her eyes, but the foods that the fork had to admit it can't manage.
The knife kept the meat (but not fish) although now in partnership with the fork. The spoon still had the soup to itself, but for informal service, got only the mushy stuff, while the fork got solids, such as cake. In formal service, the fork and spoon are both presented for dessert, whatever its solidity, and can be used together. But it is easy to see which is the ranking instrument.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife is in her eighth month and quite self-conscious about her appearance. It doesn't help when certain people make comments about her. In particular, one lady at church, who seems well meaning enough, remarked at how big she was last time and puffed up her cheeks to demonstrate.
My father-in-law also doesn't help when he talks about people who are round (meaning fat in his eyes).
I know it's all part of pregnancy and that she will be back to normal in due time. How can she politely communicate to these folks that they are hurting her feelings and persuade them not to say things like that in the future?
GENTLE READER: As you acknowledge, your wife will, in the natural course of events, get past this. But Miss Manners wishes she would get past it now.
There will always be people who make foolish remarks, and pregnancy seems to be a source of inspiration to them. If your wife wants to rattle them out of their thoughtlessness, she can reply to observations about her size by saying innocently, "But I'm pregnant!"
Miss Manners does not guarantee that this will put an end to it. But you and your wife will soon have a more promising opportunity to teach thoughtfulness. It's called child-rearing.