Dear Miss Manners: It has become common to see adults at the dinner table holding their forks or spoons in their fists, much like a children who are just learning to feed themselves. Am I wrong to find the sight of this off-putting? Does it matter how one holds their fork or spoon?
The larger question is: Should it matter?
Miss Manners is thoroughly sick of the fact that when people disparage etiquette — forgetting how much they hate being treated rudely — they accuse it of a petty preoccupation with the choice and use of forks. That is only one branch of the vast reach of etiquette, which covers all behavior that affects other people.
But eating rituals, as any anthropologist can attest, are a deeply emotional part of civilization. Sophisticated travelers know that gross violations of other cultures’ eating habits are fatal to any welcome for which they might hope.
Oddly, some of the same people who respect foreign rituals are indifferent or even contemptuous of their own. Whom would they offend?
Well, in your case, you — and many others, even though they do so unawares. So, yes, it does matter.
Dear Miss Manners: I am a widow who has been abandoned by my former “couple’’ friends and am trying to rebuild my life. Several weeks ago I invited two similarly situated women whom I have recently become acquainted with to have Thanksgiving dinner at my house with my daughter and me. Both of them were noncommittal, and I did not press them for an answer.
I had planned a simple dinner if it was just going to be the two of us but would have made something more elaborate if we were going to have guests. Two days before Thanksgiving, one of them telephoned to see how I was doing but did not mention Thanksgiving dinner, so I didn’t either.
Should I have asked her if she was coming? (It would have been inconvenient to change the menu on such short notice.) Or was it my obligation to follow up with both of them earlier?
There is another holiday coming up soon, and I want to be better prepared when issuing invitations. What could I have done better?
Surely it is your targeted guests who could have done better. Much better.
Being noncommittal is not a decent response to an offer of hospitality. Miss Manners does not consider it the host’s duty to probe for an answer, but, sadly, that is the only way to get one from rude people. She recommends countering hedging by treating it as the negative response that it really is.
Dear Miss Manners: My son is in a public high school where there is large disparity between incomes from some of the poorest to some of the wealthiest in the United States. While this is a known fact of the school, I have recently found myself in the uncomfortable position where women from the wealthy side of the freeway ask me what street we live on, fishing to determine if we live in their “acceptable’’ area. Their questioning starts with street, continues on to parameters of the neighborhood, old house or rebuilt, and how many updates we’ve made to the “old’’ house.
How do I shut this down in the beginning? It’s not just friendly chitchat, and they are clearly not being as stealthy as they think they are.
‘’I live within the parameters of the school neighborhood. Aren’t we all lucky to be within its borders?’’
And then change the subject to how the parents can be further involved in the betterment of the school. Surely, that will be a source of much more material, if not actual interest.