DEAR MISS MANNERS: At a dining-with-clients etiquette lunch, the presenter said either spoon or fork works for dessert. My mother, who thought of herself as a bit of a Miss Manners, used to tell me, "If served in a bowl you use a spoon, if on a plate you use a fork." So if you get ice cream on a plate, you eat it with a fork.
GENTLE READER: You will be relieved to hear that there is such a thing as an ice cream fork. It has a spoon-like bowl that ends in short, wide tines, useful for breaking off chunks. This configuration, in various sizes, is sometimes characterized as a spork, or, for fans of Edward Lear, a runcible spoon.
You should be even more relieved to hear that etiquette is not a system for disrupting meals to humiliate the hungry. It requires providing the necessary tools for eating whatever is served, placed in the order in which the courses will be eaten.
Thus, a spoon would be provided with a squishy dessert (Miss Manners' favorite kind), and a fork with a drier dessert, such as cake. And, yes, the gooey sort would likely occupy a bowl and the others a plate. That is the basis for your mother's instruction.
As for eating ice cream from a plate with only an ordinary fork, a nearly impossible task, your mother must have been cautioning you to make do without embarrassing the idiotic host who served it that way.
But even chocolate and vanilla desserts are not all black and white. That is why the proper dessert service consists of both a fork and a spoon in all but cases where only one or the other would be of use.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We moved to a different area of the country to be near our daughter, who has some health issues, and to help with our granddaughters. We have made new friends in this smaller community, and our next-door neighbors have helped us immensely and have become very good friends.
The wife has looked at the pictures of my son and daughter and remarked that neither looks like my husband.
There is a reason for that; I was impregnated by donor sperm from separate men (wasn't really a donation; we had to pay for it). Only my husband and I know the children's true biological history. I have brushed off the questions, but she persists in asking.
My husband told her: "They look just like the milkman; he was very cute. I never could understand why we didn't get a bill for milk." This hasn't stopped her.
I really would like to stay friends with this couple, but her questioning doesn't stop. I know I can be confrontational ("Why do you keep asking" or "Mind your own business") with her, but that will create more questions. Any suggestions how to curtail the questions and keep a friendship going?
GENTLE READER: Are you sure you want to be friends with someone who asks nosy questions with insulting implications?
Well, all right; that's not up to Miss Manners. She suggests saying: "I don't think you understood that my husband was joking about the milkman. Of course he thought you must be joking to make such remarks. Let's just drop the whole subject."
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)