Dear Miss Manners:
I am not Catholic, but my fiance is. When I go to church with him, the members of the congregation hold hands during the Lord's Prayer.
I'm not Christian and do not recite this prayer, but I hold my fiance's hand anyway. If we sit in the middle of a pew, the person on my other side invariably reaches for my other hand. Should I hold his or her hand, too?
Not to do so seems rude, but to do so makes me feel like a more active participant than I like to be. In general, I take the hand if offered and hold it passively; that is, not making any effort to raise our joined hands when the rest of the congregation does.
You are confusing handholding with holding hands. How could that be?
Taking a wild leap, Miss Manners presumes that you hold hands with your fiance because it feels good. But this gesture has a bit of symbolic content as well. It signals to him, and to any onlookers in other circumstances, that you are a pair. (Unless, of course, you are in the midst of a public scandal, in which case it gives others the signal that you are holding on for dear life.)
Miss Manners would interpret the handholding ritual you describe at church as symbolizing the goodwill and fellowship of the congregants rather than an endorsement of the specific prayer, but she won't argue that with you. She only warns you that a refusal to participate will look dangerously close to refusing to shake a proffered hand socially, which is a major insult. That is why it seems rude to you.
If you feel you must refuse to participate, put both your hands behind your back and give your unknown neighbor a regretful little shake of the head, accompanied by a friendly look, to indicate that it is nothing personal.
But for heaven's sake, as it were, don't use the occasion to have a little hand-squeeze with your fiance. That only looks as if you have goodwill toward the person on your right, but not the one on your left. At least the dead-handshake solution you propose (is that some sort of doesn't-count-because-I-had-my-fingers-crossed idea?) reflects badly only on you, not on innocent churchgoers.
Dear Miss Manners:
I was taught to put my silverware across the top of my plate -- knife, fork, spoon -- at the end of a meal. I've taught my son to do the same. However, lately I've been out with a number of sophisticated friends, who dine out more than I do, who put their knife and fork upside down in a large "V" at the bottom of their plates at the end of a restaurant meal. Have I become a rube? Worse, am I teaching my son something incorrect?
No, but you are hanging out with gluttons. The placement they use is the signal to a waiter that they are not finished eating. As their plates are apparently empty when they do this, Miss Manners can only imagine that they are hoping more food will appear.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c)2002, Judith Martin