Miss Manners: Ladies are allowed to address waiters directly

February 19, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am aware that while dining in restaurants, it is traditional for a gentleman to give the waiter both his own order and the order of any ladies he is eating with. What is the proper protocol for responding to unexpected follow-up questions from the waiter, such as, “How would you like that done?” or, “I’m sorry, but we’re out of that item; is there something else you would like instead?”

Should the lady answer those questions directly to the waiter, or should she have her male partner relay the information, even when the waiter is present?

GENTLE READER: It depends on how crazy you want to drive the waiter.

Many are young enough to be unacquainted with this custom and will be rattled by it, fearing that the lady will be insulted that the gentleman is speaking for her, and that food is about to fly.

But, as you have discovered, even those few who do know about it will rarely keep it up by directing all questions to the gentleman. In theory, the waiter should ask him, for example, “How would madam like that done?” whereupon the lady would respond to the gentleman, “Rare to the point of bleeding,” and he would relay this to the waiter.

Miss Manners admits that this bit of theater is difficult to carry off with a straight face, and that hardly anyone finds it amusing to try. So perhaps it is just as well to spare the waiter by switching to direct answers.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it impolite to call people by their last names in the United States?

GENTLE READER: Apparently. It implies that they are grown-ups.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an experienced nanny of many years. Recently I have had jobs where family members hit each other. Sometimes it is the children slapping the mother’s face; sometimes it is the children bruising each other; and sadly, most recently, twin 7-year-old girls I work for began hitting me.

I don’t know what has changed, as in all my years, the No. 1 rule all parents seemed to agree on was No Hitting.

In any case, I wonder if you would help me come up with a way to address this during the initial interview. I feel uncomfortable just saying, “Is hitting okay in your house?” I’m fairly sure they would say it isn’t. One explained she is a “tiger mom,” but then smiled as her child slapped her. How does one evaluate this politely?

GENTLE READER: You got a pretty good idea in the interview you describe, and Miss Manners trusts that you then informed the slapped tiger that you would not be a good fit in her household.

Without such a dramatic demonstration, you are unlikely to extract the proof you want by quizzing the prospective employer. As you notice, no one admits to approving violence.

But you can state your non-negotiable policy: that you do not tolerate hitting of any kind, whether between children and grown-ups or among children. You should then explain how you deal with children who disobey this rule, and say that you expect parents who hire you to support you if it happens.

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

, by Judith Martin

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