Dear Miss Manners:

It is hard for me to believe what I saw the other night. My friend ordered a cup of soup at a restaurant. After taking a few spoonfuls, he picked up the cup and drank it like a cup of coffee. I questioned this, and he said it is proper. Is this true?

Brace yourself. It is true. It is proper.

Miss Manners hates to disillusion people who think that propriety always means taking the least reasonable method available for accomplishing any given task, and that this goes double at the dinner table.

Much of the time, it does, which is why etiquette has a reputation for just trying to be mean.

But you can't even count on that. Using the meanest trick of all, it will capriciously go in for something apparently crude, such as eating asparagus with the fingers or drinking directly from a handled soup cup and yet be horrified by something similar, such as eating broccoli with the fingers or drinking from the cream pitcher.

This is because etiquette is a patchwork of folk customs, rather than a sensible approach to life--its reasoning being that there is no such thing as a sensible approach to life. Therefore, etiquette rules must be learned, rather than figured out.

Dear Miss Manners:

I have dated a woman several times, and the last two dates have been to events that involved paid parking. On both occasions she has volunteered to pay for the parking.

The first time I accepted her offer and the second I declined. The dates were fairly expensive and I'm sure she was aware of the approximate cost.

The extra cost of parking doesn't bother me, since I have a good income. I am concerned rather about the etiquette, or more importantly, her feelings. I am not sure if she volunteered to pay for the parking but really hoped I would decline or if she might feel hurt when I did decline. I like this woman very much and hope to see her many more times.

She likes you, too. Here is how Miss Manners can tell:

Modern ladies with nice instincts do not understand that a gentleman's hospitality during courtship always used to be reciprocated, and are at a loss on how to accomplish this. Traditionally, it was done by means of home-cooked meals, embroidered slippers or my-aunt-gave-me-theater-tickets, and now it should be done by the return invitation, in which the lady issues an invitation and pays the costs.

But they don't know that, so they do it by the awkward means of partial payment. If they are wary of you, they demand to pay the cost of what they have eaten and drunk. If they merely wish to show they do not wish to burden you, they pay incidental costs.

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