DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have an “airport boredom-relief kit,” consisting of crossword puzzles and an iPod loaded with novels, for use when I am traveling alone. When I arrive at my destination’s airport, I take public transportation to my final stop.
Is it considered rude for me to listen to a book, using headphones, during the ride from the airport?
GENTLE READER: The person who would have sympathized with your problem most was Miss Manners’ own dear mother. She claimed that her own mother had so impressed upon her the need to entertain others that if no one on the city bus was talking, she felt she ought to get them started.
You will be relieved to hear that she did not act on this, and that you carry this responsibility no more than she did. On public transportation, it is polite to allow people to amuse themselves.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Several years ago, I suffered a significant injury to my left arm that has left me with limited dexterity in my left hand and wrist. This is not outwardly noticeable to others in most circumstances, and has not presented me with social problems until recently.
Last year, I accepted a job with a multinational firm that has me rubbing elbows with many foreigners, especially Europeans, who exhibit much more refined table manners than most Americans are accustomed to using.
However, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to hold and use a fork in my left hand. I tried switching the fork to my right hand and using the knife in my left hand, but I have similar difficulties. I continue to practice nevertheless, but I do not feel I am able to make much progress.
I also feel it isn’t proper to announce my physical limitation just for appearance’s sake. What should a person such as myself do in this situation, where it is important to make a very good impression at fine meals with colleagues?
GENTLE READER: If you want snazzy table manners, you should continue to use the ones you have.
Mind you, etiquette is not heartless, and allows some leeway to people with genuine difficulties. But that is not necessary in this case, because using the fork in the right hand was the older European method -- before things sped up there, with the fork kept in the left hand after being used with the knife to cut.
General use of the fork came late to most of Europe, and when people ate only with spoons -- or, even less attractively, with their knife points -- those implements were held in the right hand. When forks became common, people used those in the right hand as well.
And that was the method that was exported to America. It remained the custom while Europeans learned to shovel their food in faster.
In any case, Miss Manners urges you not to succumb to the self-deprecating view that American customs are inferior to foreign ones. As in this case, they may even be more traditional.
(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, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)