Dear Miss Manners:
In a machine embroidery class, the shop owner told us that the proper way to use fine linen napkins is to insert "a very lovely paper napkin" (a "very lovely" example of an oxymoron, I would think!) inside a fold and instruct your guests (if they are so gauche they don't already know this!) that the paper napkin is used for the mouth and fingers.
The purpose of the linen napkin is to cover the lap! (Could this possibly be a custom in another country?)
I have inherited some lovely, hand-monogrammed, damask dinner napkins from my mother-in-law and, although I cringe inwardly if someone uses one with gusto, I cannot begin to imagine offering a paper napkin along with it. Her concern, of course, is that someone will stain something she has spent hours creating. Though I can understand her concern, I have found that pre-treating immediately and laundering soon after use handles any problem nicely. I would find it offensive if someone told me how to use my napkin!
Oh, no! Not another linen fetish! Don't people get enough spiritual satisfaction from worshiping guest towels without having to place napkins out of our reach as well?
Miss Manners hardly knows which is worse -- issuing instructions to guests or issuing them napkins that they are made to understand they are unworthy to use. If the lady giving out this advice in violation of etiquette rules and principles wants her guests to admire the napkins she made without using them, she should hang them on her walls in frames.
Dear Miss Manners:
Recently my sister gave me a lovely catered wedding shower. We were both appalled by the RSVP percentage. She ended up having to track people down via e-mail and then phone to see if they were coming to the party or not.
The part that really horrified me was that when my sister would finally contact one of the people who hadn't responded, they would act like it was somehow her bad manners to have asked them to respond in the first place. (I want to make clear that these reminders were upbeat and gentle.) The comments fell into several categories, but the most offensive was "I haven't decided yet, I might go to another party. You should relax." This was three days before the event.
Would it be too much to print the definition of RSVP and a brief explanation of how it is done, tongue-in-cheek style, on the back of the actual RSVP card for my wedding invitation? I can't afford to have the 40 percent no-response rate the shower had.
Every possible trick to get rude people to answer invitations has been tried without success. Threats, warnings and ready-made answers that only have to be checked off and mailed all have a dismal return.
As your sister discovered, shameless people cannot be shamed into behaving. Miss Manners strongly recommends that you cut your guest list to omit those who have already admitted to being so little interested in you as to fail to show you the most basic consideration.
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) 2004, Judith Martin