DEAR MISS MANNERS: We live in the South, where entertaining is allegedly more relaxed. However, sometimes I wonder about the mixture of styles that I see in dressier dinner table settings.
Can you explain the proper use of "chargers" on the table? When are they appropriate? What is their real use?
I think that they sometimes appear ostentatious when there is not really room for them or when the main course is not hot. I have been told that I am "old fashioned" to think that a place setting requires space instead of being crowded with every conceivable piece of china or silver or crystal that a hostess can provide.
GENTLE READER: Can we cross the people who say that with those who condemn hostesses as "old fashioned" if they use any table implements not made of paper or plastic?
Then, maybe, we would get guests who would keep their complaints to themselves. (Miss Manners trusts that you only thought your complaint and did not air it and thus provoke a counter-complaint.)
In any case, a charger is a service plate that is set at each place instead of the dinner plate, and thus hardly takes up any more room. A rimmed soup plate or a smaller plate with another first course may be set on top of it; then both are removed and replaced by the dinner plate for the main course.
From your reference to a hot main course, Miss Manners suspects that you and your critics are under the impression that the service plate remains as the bottom layer while the dinner plate is plopped on top of it. If so, you are all mistaken, which is another reason for you to refrain from criticizing one another.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, we had a marvelous time and our party was in the papers. We received many congratulatory cards with the newspaper clipping enclosed.
We did receive one quite different. The lovely card had a handwitten note of carefully selected congratulations with the following: "as you continue to celebrate this time in your life, if you haven't already done so, now may be the time to establish a family heritage by preplanning your final arrangements...."
She offered a 25 percent reduction and supplied her business card since she was the family advocate for a new local memorial cemetery.
We first thought it was very tacky, then laughed and thought she was quite enterprising. What do you think?
GENTLE READER: That you should not trust your "final arrangements" to someone whose idea of good taste is to congratulate you on your good fortune with the suggestion that it can't last much longer.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper way for a child to address adult cousins?
I think it sounds inappropriate for my children to call them by their first name and awkward to call them Mrs. Smith or Mr. Jones. I had to deal with this growing up and was always told to address them as aunt or uncle in which they are not. Please help.
GENTLE READER: Certainly. They should be addressed as Cousin, as in "Cousin Hortense" and "Cousin Gregory." Miss Manners would invite you to ask her a harder question, but not if it involves how Cousin Hortense's son by her third marriage is related to Cousin Gregory's daughter's uncle on her father's side.