Miss Manners: Dinner party seating

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dear Miss Manners:

Please explain the correct way to seat couples during dinner parties. I was recently at a family event where couples were asked to sit at separate tables. This announcement drew complaints and derision from some who were offended by being told what to do (and forced to deal with their in-laws without backup).

I think it is a wonderful idea and have since read that during formal state dinners at the White House, this tradition is maintained. Could you lend some guidance on how to entertain in the future with these same couples in mind?

It is not only at state dinners, but at any properly run dinner party that couples are seated apart from each other. This heads off the irresistible temptation to break into the telling of family stories with remarks like "No, dear, that was the second time we went there, not the first." When Miss Manners is told of couples protesting that they can't bear to sit apart even for the length of a meal, she does not take it as evidence of marital devotion. On the contrary, it sounds mighty like distrust. If they have no social interests or skills, they can always stay home.

But you are talking about a family gathering, where everybody has heard everybody's stories, and the tensions are probably just as well known. In that case, a full seating chart, which separates not only couples but potential combatants, would be helpful.

Dear Miss Manners:

I am a 12-year-old girl in middle school, sixth grade. I have a locker right next to this really popular girl.

Because she's so popular, there is a huge group of other popular kids surrounding her locker and mine. It makes it literally impossible for me to get to my locker without shoving my way through. How can I get them to go away without making them never want to talk to me because I'm too "unpopular"?

By not thinking in those terms. People of your age are particularly prone to judge others by their apparent self-evaluations. If they can sniff out your worry about seeming unpopular, they will brand you as such.

Miss Manners therefore recommends that you assume a cheerful attitude and call out, when necessary, "Okay, all Zoe fans to the left, please -- I need to get to my locker."

Dear Miss Manners:

I have been invited to a baby shower for a friend's second child. The first one is just turning 2 years old. I always thought baby showers were for your first child and you used the baby items again for your second child. To me it seems they are begging for gifts.

My daughter claims this is the norm these days. What is your opinion?

That your daughter is right: Begging for gifts is normal these days. It is also vulgar, of course. You are also right that baby showers are supposed to be for the expectation of a baby's appearing in a household not already overrun with baby equipment.

But Miss Manners makes an exception for an informal gathering of the expectant mother's close friends who are moved to make a fuss over her a second -- or fifth -- time. However, the plea that a more formal gathering for the lady's entire acquaintance, complete with those detestable gift registries, would enable the guest of honor to parcel out her shopping is not charming.

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.

2010 Judith Martin

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