Q.: Is it acceptable for a 14-year-old girl, who has good manners most of the time, to eat mashed potatoes with a spoon?

A.: No. Sorry. Manners, unfortunately, do not work on a point system, where you can save up enough credits from behaving well to get you excused from rules you don't like.

But even if they did, why would you choose to eat mashed potatoes with a spoon? Peas, maybe -- but Miss Manners refuses to believe that you couldn't think of a greater hardship you would like to escape, if you were allowed to break the rules, than the task of getting mashed potatoes onto a fork.

Q.: I am a professional, working in a small office. Today, I got a Christmas card from my associate, signed for him and addressed by our office secretary, whose handwriting I am very well acquainted with, rather than by himself or his wife.

I feel so insulted by the impersonal nature of this that I feel like omitting him and his wife from my Christmas list, a gesture which would probably be unnoticed or misunderstood. Do you have a more constructive suggestion?

A.: Miss Manners thinks business Christmas cards something of a silly practice. (The mild wording means she is not willing to argue the matter or begin a campaign to stamp them out.) But if you have a social relationship with this man she can understand your annoyance -- insult is too strong a reaction -- at the card.

If you really want to shame them, hand write them a note at home, expressing your warm and friendly wishes for the holidays, and mentioning the esteem in which you hold them. The wife is bound to be touched enough to ask the husband, "What did we send her?" and ought to be ashamed at his reply.