Dear Miss Manners: We have a strange way of dealing with public hygiene in restaurants and at catered events. For instance, it should be considered rude and unclean to reach one's hand into a basket of bread to take a piece, for fear that the hand may brush against another piece. But this is preferred to grabbing the bread with tongs that have been handled by every other bread-taker.
The habit that puzzles me the most is the practice of a server refilling a water glass by picking it up to hold it near a pitcher. After doing this at various tables, the server can successfully transfer germs to everyone in the room. To make matters worse, some servers grab the glass near the rim, ensuring that the transferred germs will go directly into the mouth when sipping more water.
Isn't there a better way? What would be the proper way for a server to refill a water glass?
Etiquette is interested in hygiene only indirectly. Its primary concern is civil intercourse, which requires us not to do things that gross out the person sitting next to us. Its dictates are therefore often more a matter of convention than epidemiology.
This is not to say Miss Manners is unwilling to incorporate advances in medical knowledge. Making another person sick generally strains civility. But as she is reminded by medical professionals, the air we breathe and every surface we touch are shared not only by our fellow humans, but by an endless supply of related flora and fauna.
She agrees with your preference that servers not grasp glasses by the rim, both for reasons of hygiene and for fear that they will lose their grip, depositing the contents on Miss Manners’ lap.
Dear Miss Manners: When throwing a party in honor of your child, such as a baptism, who is the party for? Your child or your guests?
We have some picky family members who said they were "impressed" — but we didn't care if we impressed them. We wanted a good time for all, but everything we selected was based on what we liked and wanted. We always considered our guests in selecting certain foods and seating, but we were not trying to impress anyone at our party with the decor choices or the venue.
I thought being told that they were "impressed" was rude.
Parties that involve honored guests — which includes baptism and confirmation and bar and bat mitzvah parties, not to mention weddings and retirement parties — are given for everyone who attends, guests and honoree included. A certain preference for, and recognition of, the honoree is both inevitable and proper, but so too is care for the entertainment and comfort of the guests.
Miss Manners considers it unfortunate that many parents and brides also consider them an opportunity to show off. But she cannot speak to whether your picky family members were commenting on this aspect because they wished to criticize you for what they thought was your intent or because they wished to compliment you for succeeding. She might find it awkwardly phrased, but would not let it ruin her enjoyment of the party.