DEAR MISS MANNERS: My friend usually issues casual party invitations via both e-mail and livejournal. Unfortunately, he includes the phrase "complete strangers welcome" on the online diary portion and is very open about providing his name and address to anyone who requests it.
I realize that he may have established dialogue with these people over the course of time, and trusts that they aren't utterly heinous, but I and my fiance are deeply uncomfortable about attending parties of this nature (especially since my fiance -- who is quite shy -- isn't entirely comfortable with my friends yet, let alone potentially large groups of strangers).
Is there a gentle way I can ask my friend not to invite random strangers upon occasion, as he is clearly upset each time I turn down this kind of invitation?
Should I even explain why I am declining? Or shall I simply host get-togethers at our home (which, unfortunately, is much less spacious and guest-friendly than my friend's home) when I wish to see my friend?
GENTLE READER: How many crimes is it going to take before people stop dismissing etiquette's requirement of a proper introduction as prissy and ridiculous?
Or even an improper introduction. Miss Manners prefers that the order and wording be correct, but the underlying point is that while there are never guarantees about character, the odds are better when the person is known to someone you trust. At least the odds of being able to give the police that person's real name.
So while you cannot tell your friend whom to invite, you can admit to being worried about exposure to total strangers, both for yourselves and on his behalf. If he argues the point, you should say, "I'm afraid that's the way we feel. We worry about your safety. But we are always happy to see you and to meet people you know."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a 25-year-old in my final year of a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in film and media studies and anthropology. Having left a corporate career within project management to pursue this line of study, I am often asked either "why?" or of "the practical value" of my courses outside of an academic setting.
Although I always give a sincere response, explaining that documentary filmmaking is what I see as my true calling, the frequently snide and judging manner in which the question is asked (usually by former business associates) often makes me feel disempowered.
As I wouldn't dream of returning such perpetual cruelty by rolling my eyes and walking off, do you have any advice for how to politely respond in such situations?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners recommends your breaking into a wide smile, as if the question reminded you of something very pleasant, and saying simply, "We shall see."
This actually means nothing more than that you don't yet know what your education will lead to in the way of a career. But if you say it happily enough, and refuse to elaborate beyond repeating "We shall see," they will be left wondering what is in the works that pleases you so. The brighter ones will come to the uneasy realization that perhaps they should stop sneering now in case they will want to drop your name in the future.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A few nights ago, my husband and I went out to try a new Italian restaurant. When our food arrived, waiter one set down my plate then set down my husband's. Not five seconds later, waiter two arrived, asking, "Would either of you care for some fresh ground pepper?"
I said, "Let me just take a quick taste first." (I took a small bite, chew chew chew.) "No thank you, I'm fine without pepper."
Now my husband says I was rude to the waiter for making him wait. I say the chef went to all the trouble of preparing a nice dish, I should at least try it before adding any seasonings.
We've agreed to abide by your ruling: Was it rude to ask the waiter to wait?
GENTLE READER: You mean because that is his job description? But there is waiting and waiting. His job is to wait on you, not to wait for you.
By now, your husband probably thinks that he has won, but Miss Manners is going to disappoint him.
You were actually cooperating with the waiter, who was wielding the pepper mill so that he could do his job properly. This task is not to go around mindlessly spraying the food of everyone who doesn't say no quickly enough. It is to ensure that the food is seasoned to each diner's taste. It is therefore reasonable, as well as polite, to check first whether it is already to your taste.