DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it impolite to whisper at the dinner table?
GENTLE READER: Yes, but Miss Manners admits that there are exceptions. You are allowed to whisper, "I think there might be some food caught on your teeth" or, "If you don't stop putting your hand on my knee I'm going to stab you with my fork."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I like to give gifts that have meaning to me with the receiver in mind. What should be the purpose behind the type of gift that is given?
For example, this Christmas I mailed religious gifts to family and did not receive one thank-you, but did receive raves for the doghouse I built for my neighbor's dog, aside from my neighbor.
What should be the motivation in choosing a gift? Need or want? Sharing an interest?
GENTLE READER: Building that doghouse was a spectacular present, and Miss Manners doesn't wonder that it attracted admiration beyond that of the recipient. She trusts that the dog has been licking your hand in gratitude.
But unless your relatives are simply too rude to acknowledge presents, something must have gone wrong. With religious items, that can easily happen. Even if you chose presents that you know to be in keeping with their beliefs and practices, the implication can arise that you have something in mind besides just pleasing them -- that you want to change or expand these in some way. It is an extremely sensitive area, and while your relatives were deeply remiss in failing to acknowledge your presents, Miss Manners supposes they were flummoxed about how to do so.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my husband and I went on a cruise, we were seated with several other couples at a large round table for dinner. The others had arrived before we did and, as there was a bread basket on the table, they had chosen their bread plates.
However, some of them had taken the one on the right side of their place setting. My husband was seated on my right and he correctly chose the bread plate to his left, which left me with no bread plate.
How should I have handled this situation? The woman to my left had an unused bread plate to her left, so I asked if I might have that one. This clued her in that she had chosen the wrong one, but it wasn't made into a big deal.
It seems that many people, even well-educated adults, are unaware or forgetful that their bread plate is to the left of their place setting. I didn't want to embarrass anyone by saying, "Your bread plate is the one to your left," but I did want to have some bread and butter with my dinner.
GENTLE READER: But you did get your bread and butter, and the lady to your left does not seem to have died of humiliation. Miss Manners is gratified to know that your effort to acquire a plate unobtrusively triumphed over your impulse to criticize the manners of people who might then be tempted to pitch you overboard.
(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.)