Dear Miss Manners:

I often wondered why it was impolite to start eating before everyone at the table had been served or filled their plate. When my hot gravy over the mashed potatoes is getting cold as I watch Sally take one pea at a time from the vegetable dish, it becomes more difficult.

I have three golden retrievers who would eat a grocery store in a day if allowed them to do so. At dinnertime, I can take out only two bowls at a time. The 3-year-old starts to eat before the dish hits the ground. But my 10-year-old female and 11-year-old male will wait until every dog gets his dish before starting to eat. That's their way to show they care about the other dogs (people) at the table.

You seem to have answered your own question, or rather your dogs did. Please thank them for Miss Manners.

Communal dining has a ceremonial aspect to it, as well as a practical one, even at the simplest meals. You are not entering into the ritual of breaking bread with others if you gobble yours before they begin.

In your particular case, Miss Manners would think you would have an extra incentive to wait. It is not a good sign when one's pets have better manners than oneself.

Dear Miss Manners:

My friend's mother-in-law recently passed away. Her husband has an 11-year-old son from a previous marriage and a 3-year-old daughter with my friend.

At the funeral service, my friend's sister-in-law pulled the husband's ex-wife to sit in the front with the immediate family. This crushed my friend and she cannot forgive her sister-in-law for the slap in the face. She did not include her ex-husband with the immediate family. The mother-in-law's ex-husband did not even sit with the immediate family.

Am I incorrect to side with my friend? The only reason the mother-in-law was nice to the ex-wife was due to the fact that she was the mother of her grandchild. I was shocked when I saw what happened. It was like my friend was slapped in the face.

No, it was not. This funeral was not about your friend. There is only one sure way to be the center of attention at a funeral, and it is thought not to be worth it.

Nor do the other former spouses have anything to do with it, as far as Miss Manners can see. Because of the child, the ex-wife has an extant family relationship. The sister-in-law might have pulled her into the family pew because the deceased kept up with her or because the sister-in-law herself wanted to, or perhaps to allow her to be with her child, who had lost his grandmother.

None of these betrays an intention to insult your friend, who has her own place with the family as wife and in-law, in addition to being the mother and stepmother, by the way, of the deceased lady's grandchildren.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

(c)2005, Judith Martin