The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Miss Manners: I didn’t wait for everyone to be served before eating

Placeholder while article actions load

Dear Miss Manners: I went out with three friends for what was billed as a chance to enjoy oysters together. When we got to the restaurant, it turned out one of our party didn’t like oysters and decided to get a salad instead. One of our party told the server that we would just be getting the oysters and the salad. I hadn’t really decided whether I just wanted oysters or an oyster appetizer and something additional, but I really didn’t care, so that was fine.

When the oysters arrived on two large platters, the server told the salad eater that her salad would be right up. I asked if the others liked lemon, and when they said they did, I squeezed lemon over the oysters near me. I then picked up an oyster, dipped it in sauce and ate it.

After finishing, I became uncomfortably aware that no one else was eating. I asked why, and was told they were waiting for the other person's salad to arrive. I was profoundly embarrassed and apologized to the salad eater.

I almost always wait for everyone to be served before starting to eat. But in this situation, I thought of the oysters as an appetizer, which I will start eating when it arrives.

If the purpose of good manners is to make people comfortable at the table, this behavior made me feel very uncomfortable.

But you asked. And got several indications — from your friends when they ordered and from the server when she announced it — that the salad was meant to be eaten at the same time as the oysters. Waiting until everyone has something to eat was the polite thing to do.

Had your friends rudely corrected you without solicitation, Miss Manners would be taking your side. But what would you have them say when you asked them directly?

She further warns you about weaponizing etiquette or thinking of it as a means to provide comfort — namely yours. One can politely make someone feel uncomfortable, if it is because they were ignoring the needs of others to put their own first. That is what your friends did — and as long as they did not lecture or scold you, they were correct.

Dear Miss Manners: We were at a free concert last night. Almost every seat was taken. Starting 30 minutes before the performance and lasting until the end, it appeared that someone was saving two seats in the orchestra section. There was a large purse in one and a coat in the other.

People were searching for empty seats, but moved on after seeing these two seats were full of belongings. After the concert, I saw the owners collect their purse and coat, and I asked them why they put their things there. They said if anyone had wanted to sit there, they could have.

Isn’t this selfish? What should I have said?

“Are these seats taken?” Ideally, you would ask this before you spent the entire concert seething because you already knew the answer.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

©2022, by Judith Martin

Loading...