DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am wondering if I committed a faux pas over breakfast while staying at my sister’s house. When my cousins and I gathered in the dining room, we were told of the various breakfast offerings on hand: muffins, rolls, biscuits, eggs, waffles and so on. My sister also told us that there were various cereals available, in addition to the other things mentioned, and to help ourselves to whatever we liked.
As is my habit, I took a small bowl of cereal with milk to my place at the table, along with a muffin. As I did so, I received an extremely long, icy stare from one of my cousins, who was having only a muffin and a glass of juice.
Is it improper for one guest to have something more than what other guests are having? Should I have limited myself to what the cousins were having? And while I’m at it: Wasn’t it impolite for my cousin to stare at me disapprovingly? It’s not as though I gorged myself at the expense of others, and our host did tell us to help ourselves!
GENTLE READER: As long as you were not swiping the last muffin out from under your cousin’s lips or hoarding all of the breakfast foods, you did nothing wrong. Invitations may be taken at face value, as long as a modicum of fairness, decency and regard for others accompanies their acceptance.
However, Miss Manners does not guarantee that your cousin is not holding a lifelong childhood grievance about unfair practices between you when you were 8. But she does not have time for such passive aggressiveness -- and nor should you.