Q: My husband and I are currently in the process of selling our house; this is the second time we have engaged in this activity. (I understand that for much of the population, it amounts to a second occupation.)

During the interval between our first and current sales attempts, there seems to have been a marked falling off of courtesy among realtors. Specifically, the practice of calling to request an appointment to "show" a house before arriving at the door with a family in tow appears to have disappeared. Agents with clients have been popping by at all hours, with advance notice being the exception, rather than the rule.

If I lived in a museum -- or could keep my children in one -- this practice might not be upsetting. However, since it is the residence of two children under the age of 4, our house is not always ruthlessly tidy. I am vaguely embarrassed when strange folk wander in and see the dinner dishes unwashed, the laundry unfolded, or whatever.

While our real estate agent has assured us that one may turn away individuals who arrive without notice, we have been reluctant to do so. Selfishly, in the current market, it appears foolish to dismiss a possible prospect. Magnanimously, looking at the poor family in the agent's Cadillac, gazing hopefully or glazedly (depending on how many homes they have already seen that day) at my kitchen window fills me with sympathy, so I let them traipse in.

I suspect there is nothing that even one of your influence can do to persuade agents to exhibit more courtesy to those the people who make agentry possible. However, I would at least like to use this opportunity to put all and sundry on notice that when it comes bargaining time ("Could you please leave the divine kumquat arrangment?") my spouse and I plan on being quite severe with any who have violated the rules of courtesy.

A: Miss Manners is happy to pass on your woes, with the hope that those trying to sell your house will cooperate in presenting it in as appealing a manner as possible -- meaning as little evidence as possible of your family's living in it.

She feels compelled to warn you, however, that this courtesy will not result in your comfort or happiness. A person selling a house is in the position of a young person attending his or her first dance -- unless someone desirable rushes you immediately, you will find yourself awash in the conviction that 1) everyone is behaving badly toward you, and that 2) you probably deserve it (because of the pimple on your chin, or the unwashed dishes in your kitchen).

If you have deep convictions that a house should always be perfect, you should not have had children, certainly not children under the age of 4. Miss Manners suggests you simply accept the trial of showing your house and, as you are presumably finding a new one, comfort yourself by reflecting, as you view houses, how sloppily other people live.

Q: My wife says that using your fingers to push food onto your fork is no worse than using a piece of bread or your knife. What is the proper way to handle this problem?

A: The most proper way Miss Manners can think of is for you to plead illness and eat your meals on a tray in your room.

In a sense, your wife is correct. Pushing food onto your fork with your fingers is not much worse than pushing it with an object; for that matter, it is hardly better than eliminating the fork altogether and scooping up all the food with your fingers.

The proper way to eat food is with a fork. A person with modest mechanical skills can learn to get almost all foods onto a fork without outside help from the left hand whether or not it contains a weapon. If two peas have to be sacrificed to good manners, so be it.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.