Let us put a stop right now to that dreadful practice of serving half-peeled shrimp. Miss Manners has encountered these little pink tricks just a few times too many lately, in restaurants, airplanes and even privately served meals.
There the sly creatures all are, snoozing cozily on beds of shredded lettuce, or perhaps getting their exercise by hanging from their tails on the edges of miniature birdbaths filled with cocktail sauce. But they are really just lying in wait, half naked and half encased in armor, ready to ambush the unwary diner.
She can think of no motivation on the cook's part except pure meanness. There are a lot of strange people in the world, and perhaps some of them get their jollies by encouraging the hungry to anticipate happily devouring these oceanic treats, and then frustrating or humiliating them.
Fresh shrimp being a luxury item, they do not generally allow themselves to be caught in places where it is considered fair to attack them with the fingers. Therefore, many diners who have very likely paid dearly for those shrimp merely whack off the unpeeled part with the side of the fork and watch helplessly as the protected part is carted off as garbage.
Others -- and Miss Manners cannot find it in her heart to condemn them -- decide to eat defensively. But even that is not satisfactory. You can pick up the unshelled part and squeeze the tail, but the chances of its then shooting the remaining meat into your mouth are not good.
Miss Manners' unaccustomed tolerance is born not only of a fondness for shellfish but from the belief that fairness should prevail at the dining table.
She expects people to use proper table manners. But she wants to give them a fighting chance.
This means that food must be made reasonably accessible, and that the proper tools for attacking it should be issued.
Shrimp must be entirely peeled, and lobster that has been scooped out should really be scooped out. No shellfish should be allowed to leave the kitchen under cover of bouillabaisse unless all shells are open.
Bite-sized seafood may be served with a mere oyster fork, but everything else from the sea requires a fish knife, as well as a fish fork, so that it may be cut without necessitating undue dry cleaning. Miss Manners does not know why fish knives are so rare in this country. No decent person would eat fish with a meat knife -- it makes scales grow on the back of your hand -- and the only proper alternative to a fish knife is the older method of eating fish with two forks.
While we are at it, where is the salad knife? Evil people are forever putting lettuce wedges and other booby traps into salads and then demanding that they be eaten with the unaided fork. Is it all that funny to watch people squirt salad dressing in their eyes?
Another common but dirty trick is to issue teaspoons to do jobs too big or too small for them. You can easily start the day by forcing a teaspoon, instead of a small egg spoon, into a boiled egg and watching it go off like a bomb, fallout dribbling down the side of the egg cup; and then end the day with a futile chase around the dessert plate, trying to catch some goody that can only be cornered with a larger dessert spoon and dessert fork.
Miss Manners is, of course, aware that many people think it snobbish to own or be able to use a place setting consisting of anything more than one fork and a toothpick. They would, of course, not dream of going hunting or fishing, or approaching any other activity, without the proper -- and likely to be more complicated and expensive -- equipment.
She will try, then, to appeal to their sense of fair play. Is it right to pit a defenseless human being against an armed shrimp?