Q: I wish I had a round table!
My husband has decided that, although such distinctions are “irrelevant and silly rules that nobody cares about,” we should seat our most senior or honored guests at the head and foot of our table and always take seats along the side of the table ourselves (unless we have just one female guest, for example, meaning my husband would remain at the head).
I maintain that as long as we’re going to observe rules, the position of honor is to the right of the hostess (for a male guest) and to the right of the host (for a female guest), and that we should remain at the head and foot of the table (not least because the foot of the table is closest to the kitchen door, in my case).
He tells me that I am being shallow and should be generous and confident enough to cede the hostess’s position at the foot of the table.
A: As well as the hostess duties that take you into the kitchen?
But Miss Manners does not wish to argue this on practical grounds, when it is a matter of tradition rooted in history. That must be what your husband means by “irrelevant and silly rules that nobody cares about,” except him, apparently.
With the polite modern notion of yielding to guests, it is indeed odd that hosts occupy the dominant positions at dinner. But such has been the case since the medieval “high table,” where hosts presided over their guests, in descending order of rank. And that is what people now expect. You could adopt a variation, sitting opposite your husband in the middle of the table, but you would probably confuse those in the ordinary host positions about what is expected of them.
Q: We are a middle-class retired couple with one son, married to a girl we love who is expecting their first child. Their wedding was more extravagant than anyone in our family had ever seen, and although we were not asked to help pay for it, we wrote them a substantial check as a gift.
Now to the baby shower, which daughter-in-law’s mother and I are hosting. Once again it will be very extravagant, and I pray I can escape with no more than a $5,000 check for my half of the expense.
Let me just say that her family has several sons who are physicians. Her parents have no fear of becoming destitute; hence, they spend lavishly. As I said, we have one son and don’t want to become a burden to him in our old age; hence, we are frugal (aka cheap). While biting my tongue bloody at the cost of the shower, I also know I’m expected to bring an expensive gift. What to buy?
A: A $10,000 baby shower?
You could have an extremely nice vacation for your share, and be back in time for the birth of the baby. And you would be correct, because relatives are not supposed to be the hosts of showers.
Still, this excuse might not go over with your son and daughter-in-law. To them, you owe the explanation that such doings are way beyond your means, and, without mentioning the comparative riches of the in-laws, you could only be a guest. In that case, you would bring a present, but one that is in keeping with your spending habits, not with the extravagant expectations of others.
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.