"Have something more to eat," the genial host urges the reluctant guest. "Have another drink.
"Because if you don't, I will badger and humiliate you until you'll wish you had."
That last remark is not actually spoken. But Miss Manners can perceive an implied threat from a certain tone and persistence, and so can those who will find themselves the hapless victims of forced hospitality this holiday season.
Against their judgment and their desires, supposedly pampered guests will be consuming items they don't like, want or believe are good for them, in quantities not of their own choosing. They will do this, mistakenly, in the name of etiquette.
Actually, etiquette has no interest whatsoever in making people turn green and rush out of the room. On the contrary. But guests, as well as hosts, harbor the strange notion that force-feeding people more refreshment than they seem to want constitutes politeness, and that holding out against this campaign is rude.
In previous gentle little outbursts, Miss Manners has chastised the modern adult version of the food fuss. Those who go around telling their hosts not only their own likes and dislikes, which is bad enough, but also their beliefs -- that this or that food will damage either your body or your soul -- don't even pretend to be polite. They believe that a good cause always justifies making everybody miserable. And perhaps this creates a desire to find a noncriminal way to stuff their cheeks so that they are unable to talk.
But Miss Manners staunchly defends the right of grown people to choose what they eat and drink and what they don't, and if they base their choices on health, moral or religious factors, rather than mere prejudices, all the better. It is no etiquette violation to be selective, as long as one doesn't make extra demands on one's host's patience, energy or dignity.
Exercising this right is not easy when the food pushers are at work. Their endless patter of coercion -- "Oh, come on, one won't hurt you, I made this especially for you, it doesn't have any calories, you're too thin anyway, it's good for you, you're not going to make me eat leftovers tomorrow" -- often succeeds in driving people to drink and to chocolate.
What do these hosts have in mind? Do they really measure social success by intake? Do they believe that guests are terminally shy people who would starve to death for fear of seeming enthusiastic? Do they actually overestimate the amount of food that even hearty eaters could possibly consume?
Whatever the reason, Miss Manners asks them to cut it out. Hosts should, of course, be generous with their offerings. The now spreading idea that one can style oneself a host and demand that others cook and bring the food, or ask people out and then demand that they pay a share, is a travesty of the sacred institution of hospitality.
But politeness consists of offering food and drink without cajoling or embarrassing people into taking it. It is a nice point of etiquette that re-offerings never include a count: One does not say, "Oh, have another helping," but "Would you like some pie?" Such offers, if accepted, may be repeated as long as the pie and the guest hold out, but the wording is the same.
So is the wording of refusal. The phrase is "No, thank you," and no guest should have to defend his or her choice. If a host is so rude as to argue, the guest should just keep repeating the polite refusal until the host is discouraged or Lent has arrived, whichever comes first.
Q: For the last 30 years we have sent, as Christmas cards, a picture of both of us trimming the tree, making a wreath, etc. It has been fun, and the pictures are a collector's item for friends.
We are in our 70s now, and many friends have lost their spouses. Is it in bad taste to continue sending our "fun" cards?
A: It would be bad to stop. Miss Manners is afraid that your less fortunate friends would have only too vivid an idea of why family fun might suddenly stop.
She trusts that you are sending sensitive letters, not greeting cards, to the recently bereaved. She also trusts that friends who have resumed their normal, if saddened, lives are grateful, rather than envious, that you have been spared. She tends to trust a lot this time of year.
Q: Whenever I go into my supervisor's office, she seems perturbed because I wait for her to offer me a seat, even if my visit will be short. Is it no longer proper for one to wait until invited to sit when one is in another's territory, such as an office or home?
A: The answer to the question you have asked Miss Manners is that it is still proper to wait to be invited to sit down in someone else's territory. The answer to the question you have neglected to ask is that it has never been proper -- or wise -- to continue a practice that visibly annoys your supervisor.