DEAR MISS MANNERS: This past Thanksgiving, at the home of the same close friends with whom I have spent the last several Thanksgivings, the host and I began a political discussion between dinner and dessert.
We are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but the discussion was civil. The hostess informed me that other guests were uncomfortable with our discussion. She directed her comments solely to me, not to both her husband and me.
She took me to task in front of the entire party about how it was not good to discuss politics when people do not agree, but her comments also included a long story recounting how representatives of my political side had been rude to her during the recent election. She said point-blank that she did not want her Thanksgiving to be about politics, so the subject of conversation should be changed.
I was so upset by this ungracious treatment that I discreetly left the party a few minutes later. The next day, she called to say she was sorry that I felt the need to leave, but that she has the right to set the subject of conversation in her home. She offered no apology for embarrassing me, but she reiterated that politics were not an appropriate topic of conversation.
I grew up in a politically divided household; my father was a Democrat and my mother was a Republican. There were frequent political discussions, often passionate, but always civil and respectful. My hometown was also a small state capital, so political discussions were always a part of any social gathering.
Have we reached a point in this country where politics can only be discussed with people who share the same views? At parties, must we forego passionate discussions about politics, the arts, religion -- basically all ideas -- and dwell solely on the humdrum gossipy events of people’s daily lives?
Needless to say, I will not attend any future parties at this friend’s home (assuming I’m invited), but should I avoid discussing anything that can be remotely considered controversial when I am at social events?
GENTLE READER: If you and your host were able to discuss your political differences in a calm and civil manner, Miss Manners would consider it a public service.
Mind you, she is aware of the social ban on controversial topics. But that specifically has to do with those who are unable to do so in a respectful manner, which may now include a vast majority of the population.
There is no such exception in the rule against embarrassing one’s guests.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I am having guests for afternoon tea, do I use little plates, with the teacups set on top of them, or do I use little plates plus the teacups set on their matching saucers?
GENTLE READER: The cups and saucers are correctly placed on top of the little plates, sometimes with a tiny napkin in between saucer and plate. This is especially convenient for any of your guests who have three hands with which to hold the filled food plate and the saucer while drinking from the teacup.
(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, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)