DEAR MISS MANNERS: Thirteen months ago, I had a seizure that resulted in several skull fractures and injury to my brain. I have had many trying times and challenges during my recovery and have done well in handling those. But as I get back into my job (a chef) and my social life, a problem has flared up.
I have lost my sense of smell and taste. I don't find this to be problematic at work, as I know that I am secure and good at what I do, and when I need a taster there are plenty of volunteers to help me. It becomes a difficulty when I am invited to a friend's house for dinner or when we go to a restaurant for a meal.
My friends know of my disability and understand that I cannot tell them how wonderful a meal tasted. But when I am at a dinner party hosted by someone who doesn't know me, it becomes awkward when the meal is finished. I give compliments on the great presentation, the textures of the food, how great it was to be invited for dinner, but it always comes down to avoiding the issue of how the meal tasted.
This is something people expect to hear when they have invited a chef to dinner and people take it the wrong way when a chef avoids telling them how the food was -- good or bad. Sometimes I overhear the hostess making comments about my not commenting.
If I get into explaining my disability, it brings up questions that I really do not wish to answer, such as "How can you be a chef if you can't taste your food?" This is going to be a lifelong disability for me and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
GENTLE READER: Did you not realize what was going on in such situations before you acquired your disability?
Miss Manners has no doubt that your hosts expected and relished your comments. But not, she dares say, to hear whether you found the food good or bad. You didn't really tell friends who had invited you for dinner that you had suffered through a bad meal, did you?
Whatever compliments you offered, however guarded, they took as proof that they had earned accolades from a professional chef speaking impartially. Furthermore, Miss Manners regrets to say, they balanced this with the idea that when you spoke critically of the food at a restaurant, there might have been an element of professional jealousy.
Miss Manners' point is that you should always have been excusing yourself from pronouncing judgment on the cooking of friends. She recommends declaring happily, "I'm so happy to enjoy a delicious meal without having to analyze and evaluate it."
"Delicious" sounds like a judgment and will satisfy them at the moment. If repeated, however, it sounds like the sort of thing every polite guest would say.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the difference between "Excuse me" and "Pardon me"?
GENTLE READER: "Excuse me" is the polite way of acknowledging that you are inconveniencing someone else. "Pardon me" is the polite way of pointing out that someone else is causing you inconvenience.