Q: Is there a polite way to tell a young man his table manners are disgusting and still retain a relationship?
I am no model of perfection at the dinner table, but recently I accepted a dinner invitation with a very tall, blond, handsome motorcycle racer, and I was revolted. He shoveled the food in, talked with his mouth full, and used his index finger for a knife. My mother would have shot him, and I bet his would have, too.
Otherwise, this is a pretty classy guy. He dresses well, speaks well, is very gentlemanly, but eating with him is downright embarrassing!
I want to go out with that man again, but not until he takes a few lessons in proper table manners. How can I tell him without destroying his ego?
A: How can you tell someone he is a pig without making him feel you have criticized him? Ah, another easy question!
You can't of course. But you can foist the criticism off on an innocent person: "My mother would just adore you, and I'd love to have you meet her. There's just one thing, though. She's terribly finicky about table manners. Can I just warn you about some of the things she's strict about?"
You will notice that this depends on your knowing the gentleman fairly well, and on your being confident that he would make an effort to please you. And you have just met.
Can you get to know him better on dates that do not involve dinner? If he takes you out for a spin on his motorcycle, surely he will keep his hands on the handlebars and not be able to use them to pick his teeth.
Q: My very dear friends gave me a lovely lighter that they brought from their recent trip to the Orient. Within a short time, it broke, and service shops say there are no repair parts available in this country.
Do I tell my friends? It might embarrass them into buying another lighter, which I really don't need or want. On the other hand, they might get repair parts on their next trip, or know to stay clear of that product or store.
A: How often do these people go to the Orient, and how many lighters do they generally bring back with them?
If they are in the business, they should certainly be warned, or perhaps the Customs Service should be if it doesn't know already.
If, however, they are merely casual travelers who selected what they hoped would be an appropriate present for you, Miss Manners does not think they should be expected to supply a service contract for it. The most you can do (Miss Manners always weakens after she has declared something improper, and supplies a proper, and, one might say, sneaky, way to do it, after all) is to say to them, "Oh, you're going back to the Orient. You gave me such a lovely lighter after your last trip--I'm just crazy about it. Do you happen to know whether one can get parts for it in this country? I seemed to have jammed something, and I haven't been able to find any repairman who knows what to do. I hate to bother you, but I love it so, and I miss using it."
Now that Miss Manners has set this down, it seems like a great deal of trouble for a lousy lighter. Can't you just forget the whole thing?
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.