DEAR MISS MANNERS: I recently visited a remote tropical island where, upon my departure, the local inhabitants insisted on killing and eating a giant sea turtle in my honor. I do eat meat, but not turtle. Though I thanked them and ate it with a smile, was that the wrong thing to do?
GENTLE READER: As opposed to our own native habit of saying, "Yuck, how can you eat such a thing?" and then lecturing the hosts on nutrition, ecology or the sea turtle's point of view?
You would never know it from America's dining tables, Miss Manners realizes, but it is offensive to criticize other people's food or eating habits. Of course, it is also rude to monitor what guests do or do not eat, which is equally common in our society, but there is an exception. And you have run smack into it.
Between cultures, whether they are countries or ethnic groups within the same country, food is a test of whether outsiders are worthy. So unless you have an excuse that seems beyond your control (and is accompanied by a look of regret and longing), such as an allergy or a religious restriction, eat up and declare it the best thing you ever tasted. It is good training for a career as a diplomat or politician.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have an acquaintance who, when asked "How are you?" always answers, "Better than I deserve."
She does this constantly. Even in restaurants to waiters. It drives me and several other of her acquaintances nuts. Although I have tried to ignore it and no longer ask, "How are you?" other unsuspecting people do, and are invariably at a loss for words. What does one say to that? She thinks she is being very cute. (Incidentally, she is 75 years old and not nearly as cute as she thinks she is.)
Do you have any suggestions for a rejoinder that would curtail this response? I hate to be rude to her, but I did on one occasion say, "I am sure that is so." It did not faze her. Most people just stare at her or look away.
Why does she, as well as many other people, think that "How are you?" is anything other than just a greeting? Not an inquiry into their health, mental or otherwise?
Incidentally, avoiding her is not an option as we are in a number of activities together, including church.
She also picks her teeth with her finger during meals. We have offered her toothpicks as a hint. She always accepts and then uses them. One friend even offered her dental floss. We held our collective breath in the hope that she would not use it at the table.
GENTLE READER: She will, though. With a lot of patience, you may be able to teach a 5-year-old that she is not as cute as she thinks she is, and that she must observe basic table manners. You will not be able to do so with a 75-year-old, and it is not even your business to try. Miss Manners is afraid that you will have to look the other way, especially during meals.
The rejoinder does not require a reply. And Miss Manners finds the ploy of offering the lady toothpicks and dental floss not as cute as you think it is. Your sarcasm is passing unnoticed.