DEAR MISS MANNERS: I really do not like the choice my son made in picking a wife. He is aware of this, but still is going to marry her.
Do I have to like her, and how can I be pleasant without being a hypocrite?
GENTLE READER: You do hypocrisy an injustice. Compared to antagonizing your prospective daughter-in-law, it is a virtue.
It is the rare family in which all harmony is spontaneous. When everyone in your family gathers, say at a wedding or for a holiday dinner, do all those kisses and declarations of happiness at seeing one another come straight from the heart?
The difference here is that you harbored the illusion that you might be able to keep this lady from becoming a family member. Now you know that you cannot. So it is in your own interest not to alienate someone who will be on more intimate terms than you with your son, and certainly with any future grandchildren of yours.
Miss Manners has no way of knowing how good an actress you are, but you should start practicing. The first exercise could be saying privately to your son, "I'm afraid I might have misjudged her" (as indeed you might have). "Tell me about her, and what made you fall in love with her." You then use whatever material about her interests and strengths he gives you to open a conversation with her, in which you mostly listen.
Wait -- Miss Manners knows what you are still thinking. Don't for one moment believe that you can satisfy your true feelings by sprinkling little digs beneath the surface politeness.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I had a dinner party for eight people, and when we came to the final course, I asked whether they would like coffee.
The eight people present began asking, "Do you have tea?" "Could I have decaf?" Once I had ascertained their preferences, I was left in the kitchen making caf and decaf coffee, tea and decaf tea. I missed most of the dessert course filling their orders.
This happens at almost every dinner party I attend these days. When did it become acceptable to treat your hostess as a short-order cook? Or is the fault mine? Am I being churlish, when a good hostess should be happy to please her guests?
GENTLE READER: Do you mean to say that you got all the way to dessert before your guests started treating you as a short-order cook?
Nowadays, it usually starts with the invitation, when they announce their food requirements. The thought of cooking to assorted individual demands has discouraged many people from entertaining at all.
But the after-dinner drink situation should be manageable. This is not the household hints department, but Miss Manners does have suggestions.
One is that you revert to the traditional pattern of serving coffee after dessert, not before, and away from the table. Not the entire tradition -- Miss Manners does not advise saying, "Ladies, shall we leave the gentlemen to their cigars?"
She only means that you settle everyone back in the living room before you offer coffee. That way, your own dessert will not be disrupted. Then boil plenty of water.
(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.)