DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have always been taught to leave your napkin loosely on the table when you got up or were done with your meal, as only lower classes folded their napkins. My girlfriend, who is of similar upbringing, insists that napkins should be folded. Which is correct?
GENTLE READER: In this apparently upper-class upbringing, was either of you taught the importance of context? (Or that referring to the "lower classes" is -- well, declasse? When used to mean that rich people have manners and poor people don't, it is also inaccurate.) You are both correct or incorrect, depending on the circumstances.
Among those happy few who use cloth napkins routinely, even fewer are quite fortunate enough to have them laundered every day. It was always thus, which is why those lovely old monogrammed silver napkin rings exist to identify each diner's napkin for the next meal. Therefore at family meals, the napkins are neatly folded, including by houseguests.
This is not true for one-occasion meals, such as at parties or restaurants, which is why Miss Manners is bewildered when magazines show formal dinner tables set with napkin rings. Does that mean the guests are never going home -- or at least not until laundry day?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother (newly widowed) is now offended at my sister's fiance and his parents for failing to initiate contact with her after my sister announced her engagement. My mom is insistent that it is the groom's family who should introduce themselves to the bride's family (her) and presumably plan some social gathering (nothing elaborate) to get acquainted.
My other sister and our spouses were wondering what unknown rule of etiquette did we not learn from Mom while growing up. Plus, we secretly think she just made this one up.
GENTLE READER: No, she didn't make it up. That is the rule, although Miss Manners is not surprised that you sisters didn't grow up hearing, "Now, girls, always remember that when you get engaged, be sure it is to a young man whose parents know to call on us first."
It is not, however, a rule that should be applied rigorously. The idea is for the two families to become acquainted, as they will be sharing many occasions. If this begins with one side feeling hurt and the other having no idea why, it will not be pleasant.
You might want to drop the argument, as your newly widowed mother may be feeling vulnerable -- and anyway, you lost. Your sister could ask her fiance to ask his parents to invite her, but if that might cause problems, Miss Manners suggests that your sister and her fiance invite all three parents together themselves.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter-in-law has just asked me to give her a baby shower. She has also sent me a list of those she would like to attend and the ones she does not want to attend, specifically my oldest daughter.
Does any of this seem a little rude? Pretentious? Am I overreacting?
GENTLE READER: Rude? To tell you to honor her and snub your daughter?
Well, yes. Miss Manners suggests telling her that you are flattered at her selecting you, rather than waiting for one of her friends to suggest a shower, but that unfortunately, it is considered very bad manners to give showers for one's relatives.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)