Miss Manners: Avoid provocative knife placement during Thanksgiving

November 20, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: In setting the table for the Thanksgiving repast, there is some debate about which way the knife should face. One of the family recalled that in time of war, the blade faces outward; in time of peace, it faces inward. Another opinion suggested that it always is toward the plate. Your guidance please, sage lady?

GENTLE READER: It is always good to be prepared, and in case of attack you wouldn’t want to have to take the time to turn your knife around.

However, at the Thanksgiving table, any attack is likely to come from one of your relatives. And we want to discourage patricide (even of fathers whose carving destroys the turkey and who keep the drumsticks for themselves), infanticide (even of babies who have been crying steadily for half an hour), and aunticide (even for those whose idea of conversation is, “Isn’t it about time you got married?” and, “I see you’ve put on some weight”).

Mealtime stabbings are considered bad form, even at Thanksgiving. In 1669, Louis XIV of France decreed that knives must be rounded at top, not threateningly pointed. (Oh, wait, that was to stop people from using their knives to pick their teeth.)

The rule is that regardless of what else is going on in the world, the table is set with knife blades facing in.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am turning 40 in a few weeks. I am not upset about the fact, nor do I feel that I am on the verge of a midlife crisis — on the contrary, I’ve earned 40.

I am not having a big party; rather, after a summer filled with busy work and social schedules for both my husband and me, I was looking forward to just relaxing at home and cooking a great meal. That was the plan until we received an invitation to our neighbor’s wedding. It’s on my birthday.

This is his fourth time down the aisle. We didn’t know him for the first two, but from what I understand, he had “the BIG white wedding” for both of those, as he did for the third, and as he now plans to for the fourth. They’ve invited 500 people! It’s her third wedding.

I do not feel I know the latest “Mrs.-to-be.” We rarely see him, nor do we consider ourselves close to him.

I feel obligated to go and give a gift because it’s a neighbor, but I honestly feel that since it’s his fourth wedding, he should go visit the justice of the peace, have a nice dinner for family and close friends, and call it good.

GENTLE READER: But he has had only three previous weddings, whereas you have already had 39 previous birthdays.

You will be relieved to hear that this has nothing to do with the situation. Miss Manners considers you perfectly at liberty to decline this invitation, provided you do so promptly, politely, and without getting caught offering false excuses. As it is a formal wedding, no excuse at all is needed in the third-person reply, only that you “regret exceedingly not being able to attend.” In a less formal reply, you would merely have to state that you had previous plans, as indeed you do. Miss Manners cautions only that as this is a neighbor, you pull down the shades in case someone from the wedding comes back and sees you following your plan of lounging around.

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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