In more primitive times, not being able to boil an egg was considered an identifying characteristic of the deficient bride.
Chosen for her looks and charms, she proved a bad bargain by being incapable of producing the simplest cooked breakfast.
The lesson here was supposed to be that the luxury of glamour is no compensation for a lack of basic skills. It no longer applies to brides, who are less likely to be shamed into mastering humble tasks than to inquire why the bridegroom can't produce his own silly breakfast. Or why anyone needs a cholesterol-packed egg when there are so many sugary, ready-to-eat alternatives on the market. Or how it is possible to organize one's life so one can have any breakfast at all, other than office snacks.
But Miss Manners wants to revive the cautionary tale about the object of desire being revealed as worthless by an inability to boil an egg. Only she is not referring to brides, bridegrooms or any other individuals.
She is referring to hotels. In her admittedly limited experience, the more luxuries a hotel promises, the less likely it is to be able to produce a correctly boiled and served egg.
Miss Manners has been served eggs that were evidently hoping to serve as tennis balls. She has been served eggs that were still hoping to become baby chickens. Some of these eggs are rolling around on flat plates. Others have been scooped out into soup bowls. And there is never a spoon with which to eat them.
And this is at the sort of hotel where room service comes with a rose in a vase, a large linen napkin, a dinner-size knife and fork, and a dinner-size price. As the rooms also come with vast amounts of self-praise about providing individualized luxury service, it is possible to request a spoon. You just have to be prepared to see a figure dressed as a 19th-century butler showing up at the door brandishing a huge oval soup spoon.
There may be little call for boiled eggs at such places, where so many fancier dishes are available that the other eggs must be ashamed of being associated with them. But that does not excuse the ignorance.
Civilized life begins with a boiled egg sitting upright in an egg cup. The problem of getting the top off the egg while preserving the rest of the shell sharpens the mind for the day. This may be done by tapping the top smartly with the egg spoon, coming in sideways with the butter knife or performing an execution with egg scissors that are traitorously decorated with a reassuring chicken motif.
At the same time, it must be recognized that the hour is too delicate to face real life. Therefore, not only the spoon, but the other cutlery and napkin, should be of non-threatening sizes. Even proper breakfast china is small and does its best to be reassuring by covering itself with tiny painted flowers.
Providing all this inspires more lasting love than mere glamour.
Dear Miss Manners:
My friends and I are entering the time of life when we will (hopefully) propose marriage to certain eligible young ladies.
If a young lady's reaction to a marriage proposal is unexpectedly along the lines of, "I'm not sure, I need to think about this," what should the proposer do?
Withdraw the proposal in the belief that in this particular situation, the absence of an affirmative answer is the same as a negative answer? Wait for a solid answer? We have had "Seinfeld"-esque discussions about this; what does etiquette say?
Traditionally, saying one would think it over is the only correct positive response. A lady would not like to indicate that she had been ready with the answer before the gentleman was ready with the question.
Miss Manners is aware that this has been forgotten now that courtships are characterized by testy discussions about willingness to commit oneself. Nevertheless, it would be rude to announce one wanted to spend the rest of one's life with a lady but that the offer is about to expire.
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)2005, Judith Martin