The most convenient utensil with which to consume dessert is, Miss Manners admits, the human fist.
Cleverly designed, it fits comfortably around an ice cream cone or an apple, and can easily contract to hold a chocolate bar or a strawberry, even if it doesn't seem to be able to hold on to either one for long.
But dessert may also be eaten with a gilt service of, say, 48 assorted forks, knives, spoons and things you wouldn't care to see pointed at you in an alley.
It should not be presumed that Miss Manners thinks everyone should throw away the fist and acquire the service. In the struggle to lead a productive life, it is better to be equipped with the former than the latter. Even in the struggle to eat dessert, the human hand often cannot be improved upon. No other instrument has been invented for the consumption of the raw grape.
But the fist doesn't do so well with, say, a banana split. And it can't always be trusted on occasions when the rest of the body is encased in wrappings that are discreetly marked Dry Clean Only. Something more is often needed.
Dessert services are rare these days, and expensive, and when you do find one you often have to be willing to overlook its already having someone else's crowned coat of arms on the handles. So the most fastidious among us are satisfied to use and to provide their guests with a reasonably ordinary spoon and fork. (The "reasonably" is in there because Miss Manners does not countenance the use of the teaspoon for dessert. An oval spoon and small fork are correct for eating nearly any dessert not eaten with the hands, and in the absence of such specific implements, the oval soup spoon and the salad fork will do just fine.)
But for the super-fastidious, or let us say those like Miss Manners who have nothing better to do with their time, there is special flatware expressly designed for different kinds of dessert. If you are going to laugh yourself silly at Miss Manners over this, you had better not let her see your collection of useless and expensive electronic gadgets.
Ice cream may be properly eaten with an ice cream fork or a small ice cream shovel. The tines of the one and the flat edge of the other enable the ice cream fancier to break off a bite of fast-frozen ice cream, and even to mash it into oblivion if no one is looking. The soupy result goes into the bowl. Ice cream servers look like decorated murder weapons because they have to be strong enough to destroy an ice cream mold.
A whole cake may be attacked with a breaker, which looks like Paul Bunyan's comb, or a big pointed knife, preferably with a saw-edged side. At dinner the slice is then consumed with an ordinary dessert fork, but at teatime it is properly eaten with the smaller, web-tined tea fork. Pie is served with the large, flat triangular pie knife, and eaten with both dessert fork and spoon if it is gooey. Pie that is not gooey is not worth eating.
Fruit may be less interesting in the tummy, but it's more interesting on the table. For varieties that are normally eaten by hand but sometimes wangle an invitation to a formal dinner, there is the small but lethal fruit knife and fruit fork set. They are both deceptively slender, but the knife has a subtly mean curve and sharp edge, and the fork has elongated tines.
Berries may be eaten with the generic berry spoon, which has a berry design done in relief in the bowl as a reminder to those whose powers of making distinctions are all fuddled by dessert time. But strawberries also have their own fork, some of them offering a kind hint in the form of a carving of a strawberry on the handle, but some not. You just have to know that the miniature fork with the long long tines is not there to pick your teeth with. It's for spearing a strawberry, dipping it in sugar and popping it down.
For truly restrained dessert eaters, there is a pointed spoon for grapefruit or oranges, willing to work at night even though its chief job is at breakfast. An orange is properly served in a silver orange holder, but it's been generations since Miss Manners has seen one.
Then there are bonbon spoons and nut spoons. These are little wide, flat spoons, the first with an elaborately cut-out bowl and the second with fewer openings for the nuts to slip through. Even those who proudly place these in the appropriate dishes don't really expect a hand to stop to grasp a spoon on its way to the goodies.
Q: I'm in love with the man I was once engaged to. Our plans were put on hold because he had a problem that arose from the past with his ex-girlfriend and resulted in marriage. We are still seeing each other and very much in love.
He wants out of his marriage, but because of his financial situation, he's not stable enough to move out at this time. But he is in the process of taking care of the financial problem.
To me, it's taking a long time. It's been eight months, and there are no children involved.
Just recently we decided not to see each other until he's out of this situation, because several of our plans were canceled as a result of it. We call from time to time, keeping communication. I'm only going to give him one and a half months to take care of the problem, but I did not tell him that.
A: A man who convinced his fiancee that he loves her, but has had to solve a little problem by temporarily marrying someone else, may well have broken some etiquette rules. It's just difficult for Miss Manners to find the shards in all that moral debris.
If the question now is whether you are breaking any by rescuing yourself, the answer is no. One can hardly dissolve an engagement more thoroughly than he did, so you have been relieved of any obligations.
Q: Bob and I are engaged to be married and are having a disagreement over an invitation.
I have been very close friends with Michael for many years. Michael is gay. Because we are not in the same social circle, Michael and Bob have never met, although they know a lot about each other.
This also means that Michael will not know anyone else attending the wedding. I think Michael should be allowed to bring a guest. Bob is emphatically opposed to this, afraid that some of our guests might be "scandalized" or upset.
I told Bob that if Michael can't bring a guest, then our other, unattached, single friends shouldn't either, but Bob won't accept this.
Michael is currently "seeing" someone. What do I say to him if he asks me if he can bring his friend?
A: You have a choice of things to say:
1. "How delightful. We'd love to meet him."
2. "I'm so sorry, but we're only asking people we know to our wedding; but we'd be delighted to meet him on another occasion."
Miss Manners prefers the second option, not because she wouldn't like to meet a friend of a friend, but exactly because it does prevent everyone from bringing strangers to your wedding. By definition, wedding guests have something in common and ought to make the effort to socialize with one another, rather than coming and going without meeting anyone, as if attending a movie.
What you cannot do is to treat your guests differently, depending on what you think others find scandalous. That itself is scandalous.