Miss Manners: Guest at dinner party need not cross-examine the server

August 11, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I went out to dinner with my boyfriend and his wealthy parents to celebrate my birthday. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for eight months and have visited his family a number of times, and I’m growing more and more comfortable with them. I’m certainly not from a wealthy background, but I like to consider myself a classy young lady.

Because of my level of comfort, I was a lot more vocal at this particular celebration than at the last one. I got through drinks, appetizers and the main course with grace, in my humble opinion. However, when the waitress came to take our dessert and coffee order, I inquired about the espresso to find out if it was good. I asked our server a number of questions to see if she knew anything about good coffee.

As I kept asking questions, my boyfriend’s father interrupted and said, “Excuse me, are you tipping her?” and then I was urged to simply order the espresso and stop asking questions.

Later, I realized this may have been rude to my boyfriend’s father, as he was being kind enough to treat me to a very expensive dinner. However, I really wanted to be sure the espresso would be satisfactory. If I had ordered it and not liked it, I would have been very disappointed.

What is proper protocol for situations like this?

GENTLE READER: Really? After a convivial evening at the invitation of people who are important to you, you would have been “very disappointed” if the coffee had not met your standard?

It certainly suggests to your hosts that you are hard to please and that they, at any rate, were not succeeding.

Miss Manners suggests that you drop that argument about being “comfortable” enough to question the quality of the family’s dinner in your honor. That you feel comfortable about appearing ungrateful should frighten their son, as well as them.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My in-laws will be accompanying us to Quebec City. The last time, when we were in Montreal, they would approach merchants, etc., and immediately speak to them in English, as they speak no French and have not made an effort to learn even a few phrases.

This made me uncomfortable, but I did not know what to do. English is much less prevalent in Quebec City than in Montreal.

My father-in-law has made a comment in regards to a previous trip he took to Quebec that “a lot of them won’t even try to speak English,” as if it is their bad manners not to try to adapt to him in their home country and not vice versa.

GENTLE READER: Has he tried the traditional British approach: If foreigners don’t understand you, speak louder?

Sorry; Miss Manners apologizes for that.

Her real suggestion is that you learn to say in French, “Please forgive him; he doesn’t speak French.” As your father-in-law doesn’t know the language, he will not be able to be offended by your apologizing for him.

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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