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Miss Manners: Family dinners are not the place to catch up on your sleep

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: If you are at a gathering of friends and family, is it rude to go into a corner and fall asleep?

GENTLE READER: If you look as if you are doing so on purpose, yes. So unless you are old enough to produce smiles when you say, “I’m afraid it’s my nap time,” or young enough to have a parent make that announcement for you, you should not make obvious preparations for sleeping in comfort. No stretching out on the sofa or plumping its pillows.

Dozing off in place is another matter. Comfort is out of the question then, not only because of the crick developing in the neck, but because of the noise your relatives will make arguing whether this is a symptom of illness that must be taken seriously, or the result of your having overdone the food and drink.

Given those alternatives, the now-alert sleeper may want to claim rudeness, apologize, and try to look interested in the conversation.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was wondering if it is proper etiquette to say “excuse me” after yawning.

GENTLE READER: That would be admitting that you had yawned. A truly alert person would twist the yawn into a smile. But, then, Miss Manners supposes that a truly alert person would not be yawning.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I know about the existence of dessert spoons and forks, their placement and use. But I still don’t understand how to eat with them.

Eat the cake with the fork and leave the spoon alone? Eat the ice cream with the spoon and leave the fork? If there’s a sauce, do I — or may I — eat with the fork and mop up with the spoon? Do you ever use both at once?

GENTLE READER: Indeed you do: That is the default method at formal meals, used for every dessert except those when it would be ridiculous, such as — as you have noted — ice cream without cake, or cake without ice cream.

Miss Manners offers the two-utensil dessert setting as proof that etiquette, far from trying to trick hungry people by confusing them about what flatware to use, generously provides the tools to get the job done.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was taught from childhood to tuck a corner of the napkin into my shirt collar to protect the front of the shirt while eating. I usually do not follow this custom for casual dining, but I usually do when wearing a tie or a suede coat or the like because it can be very effective at protecting the garments and avoiding an expensive dry-cleaning bill.

My lady friend, however, tells me that the tucked-napkin look is not something that is attractive or socially acceptable, and that I should avoid this custom lest I appear to be a rube.

On occasion I also have used the device of unbuttoning one shirt button and tucking the tie inside the shirt, usually when dining with other males. Your comments on the appropriateness of these usages would be appreciated.

GENTLE READER: It is to your credit that you remember that early childhood lesson. But what about the subsequent lessons?

Were you not taught, as your motor skills developed, to refrain from overloading your fork or spoon and to aim carefully, so that a bib was no longer necessary? If your parents neglected this, your lady friend seems ready to teach you, Miss Manners gathers. Barring some unfortunate medical condition, a gentleman is supposed to be able to eat neatly enough to avoid splattering himself.

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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