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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Making the Most Polite Mess Possible

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one gracefully handle eating something that is over-sauced, over-dressed, or just plain messy?

Despite careful ordering and a concerted effort not to take too big of a bite, one still finds that a single napkin occasionally isn’t enough, especially where paper napkins are offered. I find myself on dates or out with friends with what seems like an enormous pile of ugly, soiled paper, and I never quite know what to do with it, or when enough is enough.

I usually try and offer a quick joke such as, “Wow, I guess they take ‘messy but good’ seriously here,” to indicate that I’m aware I have used a voluminous amount of napkins. Short of giving up and walking out soiled, or running to the washroom every five minutes, is there a better way to handle this?

GENTLE READER: It is striking to Miss Manners that many of her Gentle Readers’ food questions carry the implicit assumption that skipping a food will have dire consequences. In some cases it may, but often it does not.

She says this without any intention of belittling your question, which is perfectly valid, but to point out that your survival does not depend on ordering the ribs. At an informal dinner with friends, when they are making an equal mess, indulge, so long as you keep your dirty napkin pile as neat and compact as practical. On a first date or at a business meal, order the salad.