ICE CREAM, like a 14-year-old high-fashion model, can look very innocent or very sophisticated, depending on how it is presented, although actually it is neither. But it always looks good.
Ice cream is a tease, because to enjoy it in the way one would secretly like best would be highly improper. And although there are many different ways of attacking it, none of these will be fully successful. (N.B.: Metaphor used in first two sentences does not apply to this paragraph.)
The truth is that ice cream tastes best when it is smushed. That means working it onto the side of the bowl with the back of a spoon and pounding anything else -- syrup, whipped cream, nuts, fruit -- into the slime. Natrually, no well-mannered person would dream of doing this.
Among the tools supplied for conveying ice cream into the willing mouth are: cones, straws, dessert spoons and forks, special ice cream spoons that look like shovels, special ice cream forks that look like spoons in drag, parfait spoons, iced tea spoons moonlighting in sodas, and flat wooden pallets that look like spoons that have been run over by ice cream trucks.
None of these does the jobs. They fall into two categories -- those that leave ice cream on your plate, and those that leave ice cream on your shirt.
However, as no one is willing to give up the attempt and eat something cooperative, such as whipped prunes, instead, here is a guide to eating ice cream, from the most informal to the most formal methods. The aim is to achieve a mixture of manners, safety and enjoyment as satisfying as, for example, soda water, syrup and ice cream. CONES
Lick in swirling motion, dealing first with the overhang at the rim of the cone. When no one is looking, dart out tongue, snake fashion, and push middle of scoop into cone. The ice cream cone is designed to teach children about symmetry and fairness, as anything but strict impartiality in the licking and the cone nibbling is disastrous. Biting of the bottom of the cone and sucking the ice cream through it is illegal. BOWLS
Patience is the best method for getting the ice cream served in a bowl to the proper consistency, but this may be speeded along discreetly by idly separating spoonfuls from the central scoop. If more vigorous mixing is required, for a sundae, for example, the best method is to fix the attention of witnesses by a penetrating stare and animated talk, while apparently absent-mindedly dragging the spoon around the dish. PARFAITS
Same as above, only moving vertically. SODAS
Eat enough whipped cream with spoon to make it safe to lower the spoon into the glass without invoking Archimedes' principle all over the saucer. Alternate sipping, stirring and spooning (the last not to be confused with the social behavior of the same name, although it is hard to say which is more exciting) until all that remains is beyond the reach of these techniques. Because of the exceptional nature of this treat, Miss Manners then allows three free slurps. A fourth would be vulgar. Baked alaska, ice cream rolls, peaches melba bombes, cherries jubilee and other such high LEVEL OFFERINGS
The fork, in the left hand, conveys everything into the spoon, held in the right hand. If the ice cream should be pounded insensible on the trip, so much the better. Otherwise, this is the time to enthrall the company with brilliant stories, while your dessert gradually weakens. OTHER
No instructions are given for eating ice cream out of the carton with a spoon while standing in front of the freezer because Miss Manners does not believe that anyone would do such a thing. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. Our dinner parties are informal, and we serve only one type of wine, either a red or a white. However, my husband serves at least two bottles, and he always serves the inferior wine first. He says that this is proper, but he doesn't say why. I believe it is because he feels it makes a big impression to save the best for last. I also think that he likes to reward the big drinkers. I disagree with this procedure for two reasons. First, it seems to me that one's sense of taste would be dulled by the first bottle, and the good wine not appreciated as fully as if it were served first. Second, I and on occasion some of our guests, find one glass of wine with dinner sufficient. This means that we always get the inferior wine!
If it is correct to serve the good wine last, I will accept my fate. What is proper, and why?
A. Just a minute, please. Miss Manners is having some difficulty understanding your premise. Why do you not serve two bottles of the same wine? Is it because you feed your guests beef Wellington the first time around, and hamburger for seconds?
If you must serve wines of differing quality, why don't you serve two kinds -- white with the first course and red with the second, for instance, or either with the main course and then a dessert wine?
Why, why, why? You didn't write Miss Manners because you needed another question, did you? All right.
Serve the better wine first, for the reasons you cited, and the other one half-apologetically, as if you would have had two bottles of the first if you hadn't understimated your guests' capacity. The principle your husband has in mind is an economic one -- called "throwing good money after bad" -- and not a very good one at that. It certainly does not apply to wine.
Q. What is the proper form of addressing a reply to a person who has placed an ad looking for acquaintances and what information is proper to give such people? As you may know, unmarried people who do not like bars find it hard to widen their circle of friends. People in similar circumstances advertise in publications, and I have thought of answering such ads.
One is usually told to reply to a box number, though. What, then, should the salutation include -- "Dear Box 3253," or "Hi, there," or "Dear Mr. 3253" or some other variation?
Further, since the person to whom one is writing is virtually a stranger, what information about oneself should one give and yet keep within the boundaries of decorum?
Finally, if one is so fortunate as to arrange a meeting with a person under such circumstances, what would be the proper setting and time length for such a meeting?
I assure you that I am totally serious about these questions and anxiously await your reply.
A. Miss Manners does not doubt that you are totally serious and anxious. She can hardly think of a worse frame of mind in which to meet prospective -- er, ah, acquaintances.
It is the essence of proper decorum to pretend to be thoroughly engrossed in the ordinary business of life when suddenly and unexpectedly seized with passion, inspired by the unique qualities of one individual. Oddly enough, this is also the essence of what, for lack of a decent euphemism, Miss Manners must call sexiness. She is sorry to say that eager honesty -- Take me, someone, please! -- is neither proper nor appealing.
Therefore, the problem of how to write a proper and attractive acceptance to a mass-produced advertisement for people willing to make themselves romantically available to strangers is insoluble.
Of course, that does not mean that Miss Manners will not attempt to solve it. The price is that you listen to her lecture on how to meet people respectably. It is to plunge enthusiastically into the general society, making friends of old people, children, married couples and other ineligible people who will be forced to believe that you are simply a cheerful and interesting person, and not just a lonely heart trying to give itself away on the street corner to passersby. The first thing these people will think of to repay your disinterested friendship will be to find you a romantic partner they consider worthy of you.
All right, now, back to the mailorder business, although Miss Manners fails to see why you consider this less demeaning than shopping in person.
Let us try our best to make the situation look ambiguous. This is no time for coyness or flirtaion -- two useful ways to make unromantic situations ambiguous. This one is all too blatantly sexual; to make it ambiguous you must be as impersonal as possible.
Address your letter to "Dear Sir." Send a copy of a curriculum vitae, such as you would use when applying for a job, and request one in return. Arrange a meeting for a limited period of time in an unromantic place -- say, a coffee break in a well-lit cafeteria during daylight. Stipulate that you have only 20 minutes to spare, and stick to that.
Miss Manners cannot promise that this will convince the stranger that you are a rare prize, to be coaxed from your aloofness by persistent and imaginative romantic attentions, inspired by the state of excited hope and doubt in which your capriciousness has plunged him. But you have to admit she is doing the most with the circumstances you gave her.