Q. It's not that I mind having the big family Christmas dinner at my house every year. I do a lot of work -- we're about 15 people, usually, not counting the babies -- and look forward to having people enjoy the decorations and the food. But then every year, I end up in the kitchen while the grown-ups are watching television or playing Scrabble, and I'm also the one who has to deal with the children when the fighting starts. How can I enlist some help coping with all this? Usually, they just help clear the table and then go off into the living room, thinking they've done enough.
A. Do not let them have this feeling of accomplishment. Announce merrily, "Oh, let's leave things for a minute," and then go with them yourself, into the living room, for coffee. An hour later, as the post-dinner stupor sets in, you can then say, with equal graciousness, "Well, I suppose we ought to get to those dishes," and accept the help offered. Someone who does not volunteer may then be told sweetly, "Will you look after the children for us while we clean up?"
Q. If a gentleman and his wife, together with a friend of approximately the same age, eat at a restaurant where guests are shown their table but not seated by the hostess, should the gentleman seat his wife or the friend? The "friend" is a widow who dines out frequently (on her own as to paying her check) with the couple.
A. The gentleman should first help the friend to her seat, and then his wife. The wife should not consider it a discourtesy to follow the ordinary procedure of deferring to a guest before a relative, other things being equal. The wife should stop putting the word "friend" in quotation marks.
Q. Several women doctors I know are extremely sensitive about being addressed socially as "doctor." One of them is married to a "Mr." Another is married to a Ph.D., and I created a furor by sending them cards addressed to "Dr. and Mrs." What is the correct way to do it?
A. Illicit love has given us, if nothing else, the two-line method of address, which also may be applied to married couples with different titles or names. The doctor and Mr. may be addressed as:
Dr. Dahlia Healer
Mr. Byron Healer
And the doctor and academician, if he uses his title socially, which not all holders of doctorates do, as:
Dr. Dahlia Healer
Dr. Byron Healer
The Doctors Healer
Q. What is the correct way to leave one's napkin on the table after dinner, if it's paper or cloth?
A. A cloth napkin that is not to be reused before laundered is left looking like a paper airplane -- pointed at the top, and the sides both extended to form an elongated triangle. Actually, it is always politely presumed that napkins are never re-used, the only exception being the family dinner, at which each person folds his or her napkin and inserts it into the proper napkin ring. A houseguest also may follow this procedure. Not doing so suggests the presumption of fastidiousness on the part of one's hosts, but they probably will not appreciate this fine point.
As for paper napkins, whatever is left of them at the end of the meal should be left as neatly as possible at one's place. Miss Manners refuses to think about the possibility of their being refolded for possible re-use.