ONE REASON THAT picnics are popular is that many people believe that the rules of table behavior do not apply to tables made out of moss or worse. So here comes Miss Manners, like a Queen Bee on a rare royal tour eager to spoil your pleasant little outing by telling you that they do, too.
It is true that some rules for eating outdoors are different from those that apply indoors. For example, it is permissible to execute extraneous wildlife found crawling across the picnic table, while any such creature making an appearance at a private, indoor dinner table must be ignored by the guests.
By picnics have their own rules. One may kill ants, but not complain of their presence.
Accepting discomfort cheerfully is, in fact, the basic rule of picnic behavior. If one is unalterably opposed to being bitten, sunburnt and having sand mixed with one's food, one should not go picnicking. The exception is that a small child drowning in a creek may call out to the adults at the picnic table, even if it means interrupting their conversation.
Nevertheless, it is important not to introduce the discomforts of civilization into a picnic to compete with nature's own discomforts. Radios, plastic forks and knives, paper plates and napkins, and tin cans can among the abommations that one has no right to bring to the countryside. The well-supplied picnic basket ust include implements with which food may be served and eaten in dignity, and no one can eat decently from a paper plate with a plastic fork since when the side of the latter is applied to the center of the former, they both buckle, with disastrous results.
Food should be chosen that can be served at its proper temperature, and it should be repackaged so that it may be served with no commercial containers appearing on the table. If food is cooked at the picnic area, no more allowances are made for the chef's ruining it than would be made at a dinner party indoors.
The differences between indoor and outdoor manners are.
One may never spill food accidentally indoors, but it is permissible to spill outdoors onto the grass, although not the blanket, tablecloth or dog.
Children may be served first at picnics in the hope that they will then go play in the poison ivy.
One may perform such normally unacceptable acts as reaching across the table, reclining at one's place and licking one's fingers, provided that they are done with grace.
Everyone gets to hel clean up, this not being, as indoors, the sole privilege of the hosts.
And there is no seating plan, so that people may sit where they wish, although it is customary to ask permision before putting one's head on someone's else's lap. Miss Manners Responds
Q: Alll right, I'm sorry, too, that white gloves are no longer worn in summer because I also have a drwer full of them. But what do I do with the ones I have? I hate to throw them out.
A: Cotton gloves may be worn for: gardening, baiting fish hooks, or preventing the wearer from scratching chicken pox. They may also be kept in the drawer against better days to come.
Feeling incorrect? Address your enquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white letter paper) to Miss Manners. The Washington Post.