DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our neighborhood holds a party each August or September for all residents to gather in someone's yard and enjoy potluck and amiable conversation. Five or six of us usually organize it and take turns offering our yards. Most people in the neighborhood come most years.
When it is in my yard, I always use my "outdoor" place settings and cloth napkins. I expect to wash and launder these items myself, as I do with other parties we have with family or friends. However, my neighbors have never allowed me to do so. They insist on entering my kitchen uninvited and helping me clean up. When it is in someone else's yard, paper goods are always used. I have never criticized this practice.
This year, I could not attend the planning meeting. One of the women called me to ask if the party could be in my yard. After I said "yes," she told me we need to use paper goods so clean up is not a hardship on anyone.
Is it to rude for me to tell the neighbors I have changed my plan? Another friend and I would like to hold a birthday party for her daughter and family in my yard on the designated evening instead. Only part of my motivation is to avoid having my manners dictated to me.
GENTLE READER: Really? And yet you want to throw your own yard party, which they will all be able to see and yet are presumably not invited to attend, on the very day you had agreed to have theirs?
Were you planning on moving soon?
If not, Miss Manners can suggest less provocative ways of dealing with the two problems you raise.
The first is to apologize that you didn't realize that the date chosen is your friend's daughter's birthday, and say that you would be happy to have the neighborhood party if they could please move it to a different date.
The second is merely to state firmly that although you always use your own flatware and napkins, you want to reassure everyone that that you actually prefer to do the cleaning up yourself, and only want them to attend and enjoy themselves.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: It is not uncommon for employees under my supervision to approach me to ask me a question while in the process of consuming a snack, asking the question with a mouth full of food.
What can I say to deter this? I've thought of saying that I'd be happy to answer the question after the employee is finished with his/her snack, but I'm concerned that this will result in hurt feelings. I've also thought of claiming, in an apologetic tone, that I have trouble understanding what people are saying when they are speaking with food in their mouths, but I'm concerned that this approach might not get the point across sufficiently directly to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
I can't take it much longer!
GENTLE READER: And you needn't. Miss Manners reminds you that the polite thing to say before you turn away is, "I don't want to interrupt your lunch. Let's talk when you've finished eating."