YOU MAY HAVE HEARD that a California judge recently ruled that a young man who was stood up by a young woman with whom he had a dinner and theater date was not entitled to compensation for his time and expenses.
You may think that this means you may break any social engagement you choose without notice. You think wrong.
Judge Richard P. Figone of the San Francisco Small Claims Court may have been correct when he ruled that "the promise to engage in a social relationship for one evening in exchange for affection and/or one evening at the theater is unenforceable under the law of contracts and torts."
But he should have consulted Miss Manners before he went on to write that "the promise to attend a social engagement is always conditioned by the promiser's ability or disposition to attend the event."
Not always. There are social engagements that may be broken, and those that may not.
For example, a time-honored method of indicating that you do not wish to fulfill an engagement to be married is to fail to show up at the altar. It is a dramatic and effective way to indicate that your ability or disposition to go on has changed. However, it is quite another thing to fail to show up at the altar if you have promised to be a maid of honor or a best man. That would be truly unforgivable.
In the matter of dinner engagements, the following may not be broken under any circumstances short of sudden death: seated dinners for 10 people or fewer, dinners at which you help entertain a difficult guest and restaurant meals when you have promised to meet one other person and cannot notify him or her that you will not be there, leaving that person to sit there playing with the napkin for everyone to see.
As for theater engagements, it depends on how hard it was to get tickets.
Miss Manners Responds
Q: When eating stewed prunes, where is the proper place to put the pits? I am assuming that the whole prune is put into the mouth. Is the pit eased as unobtrusively as possible back onto the spoon and then put in - on - where?
A: Stewed or not, you must take inedibles out the way you put them in. The rule is that if you put it in your mouth with your hand, you must take it out with the hand, if you put it in with the spoon - and let us hope that in the case of stewed prunes, that is what you did - it comes out onto the spoon. (The exception to this rule is fish bones. Fish never do anything like anybody else, which is probably what comes of breathing water. But that is another story.) The skill here is to get the pit clean while it is still in your mouth, so that what comes out has no food attached to it. It is fun to watch the facial maneuvers of a person trying to do this. Now - where do you put the pit? On the plate under the dish in which the prunes were served. If you were thinking of slipping it under the table to the dog, forget it. The dog would have a worse problem with it than you.
Q: My sister is getting married and does not want to invite my father's second wife because the relationship between the second wife and our whole family is poor. Also, the reception is being held at my mother's home.
A: Good for your sister. With any luck, she can start a quarrel that could last for generations. And after all, what are weddings for?
Q: I believe that ceremonies of the table add greatly to the proper tone of dining with friends. So, I always study the correct manner in which to carve the main course. My source book is generally good, except on one course. It says that for tongue, it is "cut across in tolerable thick slices." My question is, how great is a tolerable thick slice of tongue?
A: There seems to be a confusion of tongues here. There is the tongue on the platter, right? And there is the tongue in your head. It is the latter tongue to which your source is referring to connection with toleration. Cut the slice to a thickness that you think would be pleasantly tolerable on your tongue. If you can't judge that, you may use the tongue for asking your guests their preference.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white letter paper) to Miss Manners, The Washington Post.