Q.Is it considered vulgar to compliment a recent acquaintance on his or her possessions?
In a televised episode of "Rumpole of the Bailey," Mrs. Rumpole, usually the soul of propriety, took great offense when a dinner guest admired her wine glasses, exclaiming (out of earshot, of course!): "The very idea! Noticing people's things!"
I can't imagine why one should object to having one's taste praised by a perceptive guest. Nevertheless, should I keep my mouth shut when my host of the evening proudly displays his crystal or china? A.A. Miss Manners has not the A. honor of knowing Mrs. Rumpole, but she must be the only creature on earth besides Miss Manners who remembers that rule. She probably also knows the one about never remarking on the food at a dinner party, even to compliment it.
These attitudes date from a time when even comparatively modest households had inherited furniture and hired cooks. (Presumably what they saved by not buying furniture was used to pay the wages.) Any judgmental remark was therefore inappropriate, as the decor and food did not reflect the hosts' taste so much as their family background and their luck in servants.
Miss Manners does not recommend failing to compliment hosts who have spent the day slaving over a hot food processor, or their lives decorating their houses. It is now expected.
But Miss Manners, and perhaps Mrs. Rumpole too, remembers fondly when there was something said at the dinner table besides how the meat was marinated or what the mortgage rate was on the house.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. Copyright (c) 1984, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.