Q. My family was having dinner at the home of longtime friends. Before dessert, the hostess allowed her new pet bird to meander around the dinner table. He left a dropping at my elbow. Neither the host nor the hostess expressed dismay or moved to clean it up.
After showing us a trick at the hostess's urging, the bird hopped up my husband's sleeve and proceeded to leave another dropping on his shoulder. The hostess laughed, as though this were another amusing trick.
The host then mopped up my husband's shirt with the hostess's napkin, dipped in her white wine. She did not find this as amusing, protesting that he had ruined her drink.
My entire family sat stunned. Dessert was then served.
Normally we enjoy the company of these people, and it is likely that we will have dinner with them again. How do we let them know we don't appreciate eating with the bird around? Our hostess told us that normally when they eat, the bird walks around the table, nibbling from each plate.
If this should happen again, what would be the correct response?
A. You might start with "Thank you, I don't believe I care for any dessert." But Miss Manners is not sure she would have been able to get that out before needing to say, "Excuse me."
What remains unasked here is how the hostess could possibly object to "birdie-doo" in her drink -- what is she, some kind of heartless animal-hater? However, if she simply doesn't like excrement with dinner, how come she subjects her guests to it?
Before accepting another invitation, Miss Manners suggests you stipulate that, much as you cherish your hosts, you are not prepared to socialize with their bird. You might graciously allow them to put this down to your skittishness, instead of their imposition. But if challenged that you must be prepared to dine with the bird if you dine with them, Miss Manners suggests that you skip the meals, if not the friendship.
Q. My daughter has invited her college boyfriend to stay with us.
She suggested that he call me by my first name. (She wants him to feel comfortable.) My mother does not think that is proper. What do you think?
A. Your daughter must have a very quiet voice. Miss Manners missed the part where she said, "Mother, dear, what would you feel most comfortable having him call you?"
The rules of hospitality do not cancel out such simple proprieties as having a young man address a lady a generation older than he, whom he is meeting for the first time, with deference and respect. Conferring on him the right to address you as an intimate is, if anything, premature for someone in the transitory role of "college boyfriend."
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.