Miss Manners: Stop foraging guests in their tracks

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dear Miss Manners

Several members of our very large family are wondering how to handle something that happens at all of our holiday gatherings.

Unfortunately, we have a few family members who take large amounts of leftovers home when they have contributed little or nothing to the meal. They are not destitute, only poor in their manners, because they don't ask if anyone minds.

We wouldn't mind if they were a little more giving or asked permission. We are not talking about single men, aging aunts or college kids here. Any suggestions as to what can be said when we walk into the kitchen and discover them stuffing all the white meat into a baggie?

"Oh, thank you; you're helping pack it up. I'm planning to donate the leftovers to the needy. Just leave the bags over here, please, and we'll take them over while the food is still fresh."

Dear Miss Manners:

A colleague and I are debating the correct term to use on invitations to solicit replies for an art exhibition opening at a New York museum. My colleague insists R.s.v.p is proper.

I understand French, and therefore understand the reasoning behind this choice. However, I find it outdated and think people will view it as a typo since it's so rarely written this way. My colleague showed me a page from a book of yours on which you wrote, " 'R.s.v.p.' is correct." Do you still hold this opinion?

It is not an opinion; it is correct, although "R.S.V.P." is commonly used.

Dear Miss Manners:

My partner and I adopted a child three years ago. He has become a happy, silly, active, loving child.

When we were going through the adoption process, the topic of being a "conspicuous family" was discussed. As two men with a child, we fall into that category.

Several times over the last couple of years, we have been verbally attacked. Twice we have been in a grocery store when someone informed us that we were not a "real family." On one of these situations, we were even told that we were condemned to hell!

Another time, when I was having breakfast out with our son, I was discussing children with a woman who was there with two of her own. The conversation was casual and amiable. When I mentioned "my partner" in the conversation, she started shouting at me, "You're evil! You are doing that child a great injustice!"

Our son's birth mother was a heroin and cocaine user during her pregnancy. She had the presence of mind to realize she couldn't take care of him and chose us as his adoptive parents.

We didn't decide to adopt to "save" a child, but the fact is, we will probably be able to give our son a much better life than if he had stayed with his birth mother.

How do we react to these people?

A gentleman of Miss Manners's acquaintance was once subjected to a barrage of unwarranted insults. Outraged on his behalf, she asked why he did not trouble to defend himself.

His reply (and please forgive the inelegance for the sake of vividness) was: "If someone is throwing up on you, you get out of the way. You do not stay around to examine what is coming up."

There is nothing you can say to people who, whatever they may think, see fit to hurl crude insults at you, even in front of your son.

A stiff "I'm sorry you feel that way" is all you can utter before turning your back.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2009 Judith Martin

© 2009 The Washington Post Company