Miss Manners: Correcting poor table manners is not a moral judgment

July 19, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was brought up by a mother and grandmother who overvalued table manners as an indication of a person’s character and general worth as a human being. I pride myself on not having such foolish priorities, and yet ...

I am the grandmother of three wonderful young women who all hold their knives and forks incorrectly when cutting their meat, and I’m afraid it drives me crazy.

Do you think I should just get over it, or can you suggest a way I might correct them without embarrassing them and/or myself?

GENTLE READER: Don’t you think you owe your mother and grandmother a tardy apology? Perhaps what they meant was not that people who eat haphazardly are valueless as human beings. Perhaps what they meant was only that such people are yucky to watch. As you have discovered.

However, Miss Manners notices that you also owe your forebears thanks for having provided you with a tactful way of instructing your granddaughters. If you give them an amusing picture of yourself in rebellion against what you thought of as shallow concerns, you will head off their saying the same. Then you can tell them that oddly enough, it did turn out to be true that people, even high-minded people, are put off by poor table manners.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I want to not invite six people to whom a “save the date” notification was sent. How can I do this in a tactful way?

GENTLE READER: Cancel the event.

You can then replan it for a different time with another guest list. But Miss Manners considers any other solution to be the equivalent of saying on the telephone, “Thanks for holding,” and then hanging up.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: On a recent outing to my local supermarket, an individual who must have been in quite a hurry slipped in behind me at the checkout line. Though I had placed only a few of my items on the counter, she began to place hers at the end of the belt, leaving me only a few inches to continue adding my own.

In her haste to unload her groceries, she must have pushed her carriage and it hit the back of my legs. I turned to look at her and she apologized. I acknowledged her apology, and, after having finished placing my items, moved up to the card reader to swipe my debit card.

I felt a presence behind me, and there she was, allowing me no privacy to enter my PIN, making it necessary for me to place my hands over the device to ensure it could not be read. What does one do in this situation?

I had no desire to make a scene, but wish I could have thought of something to say that was kind and to the point to let this individual know that she was repeatedly violating my personal space.

GENTLE READER: It would be more effective to let this individual know that she is repeatedly violating her own interests.

Miss Manners suggests halting your transaction to turn and say pleasantly, “I’ll be able to oblige you by doing this faster if you will allow me the room I need.” If you say it clearly, the people in line behind the offender will turn their impatience on her.

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

2012, by Judith Martin

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