Q: It has become common to see adults at the dinner table holding their forks or spoons in their fists, much like 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?
A: 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.
Q: As I was addressing our gift card and package to an out-of-state relative of my husband’s, I noticed an extra card in the wedding invitation with hotel options, day-of logistics, etc.
At the bottom of this card was the strangest statement and something I have never seen on a wedding invitation. It said, “In Lue (sic) of Thank You Notes, we are making donations to (two very reputable charitable organizations).”
I just don’t understand. How am I to know if they received and liked our gift? This seems very odd to me.
A: The oddest part is that these people believe that they will appear to be generous while exhibiting a stunning lack of respect for your generosity. And Miss Manners bets that they expect the charities to acknowledge their donations, with the documentation necessary for them to get tax credit.
Have you sent that package? If not, you might want to write them that you appreciate their interest in those charities, and therefore are donating to them in lieu (maybe they will learn to spell that) of sending a wedding present.
Q: 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.
A: “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.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.