Miss Manners: Astonish your guests by drinking the soup

November 15, 2011

Dear Miss Manners:

I was given a set of sterling bouillon cup holders and china bouillon cups, and I intend to use them for Thanksgiving. Is it proper to pick the bouillon cups up by the handles and sip the soup, or should we use soup spoons?

It is not only proper to pick up bouillon cups by their double handles, but also amusing. You get to watch those who are unfamiliar with bouillon etiquette drop their jaws.

And yet you do want to get those jaws functional again, or your bouillon may go to waste. A bouillon spoon is a smaller version of the cream soup spoon with its round bowl. However, your guests may be too fascinated watching you drink from the cup to notice what size spoons you give them.

Dear Miss Manners:

My dear mother-in-law often sends me small tokens and includes small gifts for me along with presents for my husband or son. I appreciate that she is thinking of me, and I express my thanks punctually after receipt of a gift.

However, I want to make sure she knows that I don’t expect any gift. Also, now and again I find it a bit uncomfortable to receive presents — on Father’s Day, for example. If she is gifting because she enjoys it, I will continue to accept these tokens and express my gratitude for the thought and keep any discomfort to myself. If she is gifting because she thinks I expect presents, I would like to make it clear that I don’t. How may I inquire without offense?

If she is gifting because it gives her pleasure, is there a polite way to indicate things I might like? I often give away her gifts that are not to my taste. I suppose when I don’t like an item, three people benefit — my mother-in-law in the pleasure of giving, me in the pleasure of receiving and someone else in the pleasure of using. Should I leave well enough alone?

Or spoil any pleasure by letting her think that the presents she has been giving you for years have not been welcome, and that in the future, she should use your taste and not hers?

It sounds as if the lady is merely being extra- gracious. Miss Manners would suppose that mothers-in-law who felt that presents were being demanded of them would not readily comply. If you are truly uneasy, you can add to your profuse thanks that you were unaware of such a charming custom, and wonder if others practice it, or it is only her dear, generous self.

Dear Miss Manners:

My black cashmere coat with a mink collar and raglan sleeves was a popular style 40 years ago. It is still in near-perfect condition and very lightweight and warm, and I have always liked wearing it. Please tell me if the coat is too old and out-of-date to continue wearing.

One word should set you at ease: “vintage.” That is the new, chic name for old and even secondhand clothes. Miss Manners congratulates you on being so much in fashion.

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Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

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