DEAR MISS MANNERS: Which is proper? To pick up the glass off the table and refill it, or leave it on the table and pour? I have always felt it to be unsanitary for a server who is clearing plates to touch someone's glass without having washed their hands since clearing other guests' dishes.
GENTLE READER: Life is full of risks, and although pouring while the glass is on the table is correct, the server could miss, pour ice water down your neck, and you might catch pneumonia.
Miss Manners has managed to lead a reasonably healthy life without worrying about the statistically insignificant dangers of everyday life, but she is aware that less reckless folks can find health threats in the most apparently innocuous customs.
She has often been told, for example, that leaving one's napkin on one's chair when temporarily absent from a meal has dire results, because other backsides may have previously sat on that chair. How the transfer of germs takes place -- on either end -- baffles her. It would have to be by direct contact, as whatever is in the air would already be doing its dirty work.
Do the diners return and stuff their napkins in their mouths? And that's just the more decorous side of the transfer.
As for the pouring of water -- wouldn't the server have to have his fingers in the glass? If it is only a matter of having touched the glass, what about the person who handled the glass when setting the table?
No doubt there are ways to get sick when coming in contact with almost everything and everybody, but Miss Manners would just as soon not be told about them.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Does the man need to lead the woman to the table when dining out?
GENTLE READER: And make her drink? Whoops, no, that was horses. Miss Manners apologizes.
A lady is properly led to a restaurant table by the gentleman accompanying her, unless a restaurant host does so, in which case the gentleman goes last.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a dear friend who is married but still uses her middle name rather than her maiden name -- i.e., Eloise Adele Trumball, rather than Eloise Deaver Trumball. She swears she has never heard of this convention and that I must be making it up; her mother also doesn't follow the practice.
I realize I have to let this go; I can't force her to follow conventions she doesn't believe in. I would like to know where the practice comes from, however.
GENTLE READER: Your friend might better ask the origin of using the birth name as a middle name, as her name and her mother's followed the older convention.
The custom was for a lady to change her name upon marriage, not to add on to it. Miss Manners understands the wish of ladies to hold on to their original names as prompting their use as middle names, and often now not changing names at all. Yet the old-fashioned way also deserves respect, and no one should be subject to outside pressure on the choice.
(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.)