Miss Manners: When eating by yourself, use whichever spoon you want

November 8, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: A concern that has been bothering me for some time: When eating ice cream out of the carton (alone), should I be using my ice cream spoon, or can I use a soup spoon (my favorite)?

GENTLE READER: Here is the nifty thing about etiquette: It concerns itself with actions among people, and not what you do home alone with the shades drawn. Under such circumstances, you could put your face directly in the carton without offending anyone, provided you refrained from bragging about it.

But truly, using the soup spoon is hardly a transgression. As everyone knows — or so at least Miss Manners has been trying to alert the public in its own interest — oval soup spoons can cunningly pass for dessert spoons. Ice cream is a dessert, even if you are having it as a main course.

What she doesn’t understand is why you disdain those sweet little ice cream spoons with their delicate handles and fanciful bowls. Even if Miss Manners did not like ice cream (but of course she does), she would consume it as an excuse to have such spoons.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a below-elbow amputee on my left side. When I go out in public, children often notice my disability because it is at their eye level. Many children are curious, and many ask questions, and on rare occasions I will encounter a child whose curiosity is ill-mannered.

I take all these in stride and generally with good humor. However, the other day at the grocery store, a child of about 8 caused quite a scene, yelling, “Oh my God! She has no arm!” and pointing at me. She then began sobbing and crying and carrying on, saying that I was scaring her.

Her mother quickly finished bagging her groceries and exited the store, covering the girl’s eyes as they passed by me, but everyone around was left staring at me in a very awkward moment, which upset my own 10-year-old daughter.

I looked up and said, “Gee, I’m sorry. I guess I should have combed my hair this morning. I didn’t realize I was looking such a fright.” That broke the tension, but in reality I was horrified and embarrassed to have been the cause of such a public scene.

Other times, I have just fled the scene as quickly as possible, with a quiet apology to the people in the general area, but I am never quite sure how to handle these situations. Things like this don’t happen often, but when they do, they feel rather ugly, and I am always left feeling that I handled things quite inadequately.

GENTLE READER: First of all, you did not cause this scene. One cause of the child’s dreadful outburst is the parental failure to teach basic public manners, as evidenced by the mother’s own act of shielding her child and running instead of apologizing and explaining why to the child, for all to hear. Another cause is that society tends to hide any irregularities, so that the not- uncommon case of an amputee seems shocking.

Second, Miss Manners cannot imagine how you could have handled it better. Your answer was witty and effective in providing perspective and defusing embarrassment. It should have made your 10-year-old daughter proud.

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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