DEAR MISS MANNERS -- What spoon do you eat with, a teaspoon or "soup" spoon? I have relatives who are doubtful, and I get teased all the time about this.
GENTLE READER -- Please do not take it as adding to your torment when Miss Manners explains that soup spoons are used to eat soup and teaspoons to stir tea.
Flatware is not the etiquette booby-trap that people seem to think. Truly, we only ask that tables be set with the equipment people need to eat the food in front of them without making an undue mess, and that it be laid out in the order in which that food is to be eaten. On the whole, the nomenclature is pretty straightforward.
Perhaps the confusion you experience comes from the scarcity of dessert spoons. An oval soup spoon can easily pass for one, but because teaspoons are sold as an indispensable part of the basic place setting, people who don't give daily tea parties reach for that instead, figuring it must have some use. It would be more sensible to buy a double set of oval spoons for those who want both soup and dessert at the same meal.
DEAR MISS MANNERS -- I have been invited to a piano recital to be performed by my boss' 20-year-old son. Though I am casual friends with her, we do not socialize outside of work.
The recital will be held on a Sunday afternoon in her home. It will last 45 minutes and will be followed by light refreshments. Approximately 40 people have been invited.
Are attendees normally expected to bring gifts to such events? If so, what is considered appropriate?
GENTLE READER -- Unless the young gentleman is known to be a prodigy, attending an amateur recital is, in itself, a gift. That, and remembering that you are there as a support system, not a music critic.
But for all Miss Manners knows, the young gentleman may be a real musician. You need not bring a present in any case, but if he is, you may wish you had flowers to throw at his feet.
DEAR MISS MANNERS -- I have been having a problem with gossiping neighbors. Some of the things said would win a celebrity millions in a lawsuit.
I did visit an attorney over suing a person, and he stated that I had a good suit and would win, but the most I could be awarded would be $100, and my legal fees would be in the thousands.
One of the neighbors lives with her mentally challenged brother, who owns the home, which was left for him by their parents.
How should I handle this? I feel as if I need to confront her and put her in her place.
GENTLE READER -- But her place is right near your place.
Geographically, this means that it is a poor idea to escalate an already bad situation. You may be sure that a hostile neighbor is not going to fold quietly if you fire back at her.
At the etiquette level, since you have addressed your question to Miss Manners, you put yourself on an equal basis with the rude neighbor. What if she were to bring a suit against you for the things you are tempted to say, and it is only your word that she started it?
The best defense would be, whenever her name is mentioned, to say you feel sorry for her and wonder if she is in need of help.
Judith Martin is the author of "Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding." You may write to Miss Manners at MissMannersunitedmedia.com; via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016; or (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.
Copyright 2010 by Judith Martin, Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.