DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have frequently taken secret delight in eating asparagus with my fingers, which I know from your etiquette advice is correct. My husband and I were discussing this practice at the dinner table this evening, as we gently corrected our young offspring in their continuing efforts to pick up errant peas with their fingers.
This is something of a "tree falls in the forest" question: The asparagus rule is, in my experience, not very well known (although perhaps that says something about the company I keep). If one is attending a dinner party at which a lovely dish of lightly steamed asparagus is served, and one proceeds to convey one's stalks to one's mouth via fingers; if the other dinner guests are unaware of the asparagus rule and are shocked and offended, has a breach of etiquette been perpetrated?
Of course, polite people would not point out their dismay, and a polite person would not try to correct the offendees' erroneous assumption of wrongdoing. However, one can tell by the quietly shocked expressions, quickly masked, that one has offended.
In other words, if they don't know it's really OK, and they think you're a slob, have you committed an etiquette faux pas? If you suspect it might look pretty snooty to eat with your fingers and then quote Miss Manners as your authority, should you just quietly cut the asparagus with your knife and fork, as the hostess is doing? Is it correct to eat asparagus with knife and fork if you prefer?
GENTLE READER: Well, yes, it is also correct to eat asparagus without causing a sensation. But when you consider how few ways perfectly polite people have of causing a sensation, surely you will not begrudge Miss Manners this one.
It is true that on rare occasions, the super-polite may refrain from doing something correct to avoid embarrassing others. Stories about drinking the finger bowl water -- to prevent a misguided guest who has done so from the humiliation of knowing his error -- are attached to practically every halfway-humane monarch in history.
But that is not the same as running the risk of being thought incorrect when one is not. Miss Manners imagines that anyone so rude as to go around reporting this supposed error will eventually get his comeuppance from someone who knows the rule.
Nor is it a case of the tree in the forest. The true application of that to etiquette is that errors committed in total privacy do not count. Miss Manners does not advise telling this to your children.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have two very good friends who are married to each other. The wife has a doctorate; the husband does not. When I see them, I usually hug the doctor first, and then her husband. When I leave, I say bye to them in the same order: doctor, then husband. I know the doctor a little better than her husband, but is this the correct order of things? Just wondering.
GENTLE READER: You have left Miss Manners wondering what the lady's being A Doctor has to do with this. Surely you don't think hugs are ranked by academic achievement. Perhaps you just like saying it about your friend. In any case, she is the one to greet first, because she is the lady.