Miss Manners: Spoon Identification 101

October 19, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: At home and in restaurants, I have always been given a teaspoon to eat soft desserts such as pudding, fruit cocktail and ice cream. However, when I went on a cruise with a foreign-owned cruise ship, they gave us soup spoons for such desserts.

I was amazed by this, and even asked the waiter if he made a mistake, but he said this is the way this line does it. Is the use of soup spoons for dessert a common practice abroad, and is it ever done in the United States?

GENTLE READER: Not often enough. That was no soup spoon-- it was a proper dessert spoon, which the teaspoon is not.

As a dessert spoon is a large oval spoon, Miss Manners understands that you mistook it for a soup spoon, which is oval and only ever-so-slightly larger. Maybe it even is a moonlighting soup spoon. But it would still be the more nearly correct implement for dessert than the teaspoon.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I live in public housing in an upper Midwestern state. I have been told that vulgar language and obvious drunkenness in my building community room are acceptable because the offenders are just poor people trying to get along. I especially don’t like vulgar language used in the presence of a school-age child. I was told that teachers now tolerate such language.

My past boyfriends have always used the language of gentlemen. A blind date did use four-letter words with relish. I told him to clean up his language or take me home.

I know a lady is limited as to what she can do in public, but what should she do in a social arena with people she lives near?

GENTLE READER: Are we ever going to be rid of the notion that manners come with money? Take a look at the tabloids for evidence of the refined behavior of the rich and famous.

Equally ridiculous and even more offensive is the idea it is all right for the poor to behave badly because they are not capable of anything better, or because that is their “culture.”

Miss Manners assures you that you have not heard any words in your community that are not also spoken in the high-rent district. Drunkenness is not exactly unknown there, either, although it may be better hidden. And what about yourself? You live in public housing and are therefore presumably poor, but are presumably behaving yourself.

Your only hope of changing your neighbors is to make friends with the children. If they come to enjoy and admire you, they may want to please you. It is a less harsh version of the same technique you used on that gentleman. And by the way, did it work? Did the blind date see the light?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m serving layered cake at a drop-in. I will be cutting it into small slices, and also serving several other finger desserts. Should the layered cake be served with a fork, or can it be eaten with hands like the finger foods?

GENTLE READER: Only if the filling between the layers is not gooey. But in that case you needn’t worry, as no one will take a slice, anyway.

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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