Dear Miss Manners:

My mother always taught us that when placing a new candle into a candlestick, you should immediately light the wick and then blow it out. The reasoning behind this was (according to my mother) that if a guest should ever have a need to light one of your candles, he would not feel uncomfortable about it since it had already been lit.

Is this a real rule of etiquette? If so, why do I have this almost uncontrollable urge to light other people's brand-new candles when I am in their home?

Did your mother explain why guests should go around lighting candles? Perhaps to be useful during a blackout, but in that case, they wouldn't be able to see the wicks before lighting them.

Never mind--there is such a rule, and Miss Manners believes in it every bit as strongly as your mother. Only her explanation is that candles with fresh wicks appear to be there only for show.

As for your urges, Miss Manners's job is to tell you to restrain them, not--she thanks her lucky stars--to explain why you have them.

Dear Miss Manners:

When is it proper for your husband or male companion to order your dinner?

The husband of a couple we are friends with always orders his wife's dinner, even in a rather modest restaurant. I can understand this in a foreign or gourmet restaurant where the gentleman is more familiar with the language or the menu, or if it is a date and he doesn't want her to feel she has to read the menu from right to left.

It seems a bit ostentatious on his part, and I feel a bit put down, since I like to make my own choices and his wife appears incapable.

There is an etiquette point here that Miss Manners is afraid eludes you, and you make another point that eludes her. She proposes an exchange of information.

She can tell you that it is an old-fashioned courtesy for a gentleman to give the waiter not only his own order, but that of the lady who is with him. And it is a greater (and you will think even more old-fashioned) courtesy that a gentleman is as attentive to his wife as to a date.

This gesture did not fall into disuse because it was suddenly discovered (surprise, surprise) that ladies are capable of stating their own orders. Most gentlemen simply became exhausted by waiters who were not only ignorant of this rule but visibly bewildered by it.

However, you imply that the gentleman in question here not only orders for his wife, but dictates what she should eat. Miss Manners would advise extreme caution before attempting to interpret other people's marital discourse from any fraction of it that you happen to witness.

It is possible that the wife announced on the way over, "I can't wait to tear into a big steak." It is possible that in the past, the husband complained, "Why do you always leave what you order and eat from my plate?" and that when she replied, "Because yours is always better," he offered to choose for her.

It is also possible that she showed him what on the menu she wanted when you weren't looking. And it is possible that they have been married long enough that he knows exactly what she wants without having to ask.

Now here is what Miss Manners fails to understand:

How did you manage to turn this apparently amicable arrangement between husband and wife into a put-down directed at you?

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.

{copy} 1999, Judith Martin