DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 19-year-old stepdaughter has been invited to a formal dinner dance and asked me to teach her etiquette, so I planned a family dinner using all my fine china, silver, crystal, etc. It was a good opportunity to give some pointers that the children weren't clear on.
However, a situation came up with her sister that I didn't know the answer to. She has some physical limitations using one arm, so she has gotten into the habit of using her fingers to tear her meat since cutting is difficult for her. I felt sure that using her fingers wasn't appropriate, but didn't know what other options she might try. What do you suggest?
GENTLE READER: Many people now believe that any medical problem, physical or psychological, is a valid excuse for ignoring the customs and expectations of society. Miss Manners is not among them.
However sympathetic society may be, it recoils from such obvious violations of established convention as eating meat with one's hands. It is all very well to say that it shouldn't, but it does. And that is even on the part of people who are aware of the problem.
This leaves the young lady with the choice of broadcasting her difficulty at every shared meal, in the hope that this will draw enough sympathy to counter an adverse reaction (although she can hardly notify everyone at a large gathering), or deciding that she doesn't care if others assume that she is merely grossly unmannered.
Miss Manners would think it preferable to avoid eating food she cannot manage when dining out socially, or, at restaurants, requesting that her meat be cut in the kitchen.