Q: What is your stance on people who bring treats to work on their birthdays? Is it an attention-getting mechanism or a nice gesture?
I have done this once in the past, but I felt like everyone was wishing me happy birthday only because I brought in food. I’m not sure if I should bring in food again this year. (For the record, people regularly bring in food to share just as a nice gesture.)
A: This feels like a riddle. How would they have known that it was your birthday had you not brought in food? And because sometimes your colleagues bring in food when it’s not their birthdays, does that mean people wouldn’t assume it was your birthday since you brought in food?
Miss Manners has lost track of the problem. Is it, perhaps, that you want people to remember your birthday without being prompted? Or that you do not want to appear as if you are prompting them?
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She suspects the latter. But as long as your treats are not accompanied by a self-congratulatory parade with a bullhorn, she permits you to continue enjoying your birthday however you wish — and accepting the well wishes of your colleagues at face value.
Q: My pet peeve is that when I am dining at a restaurant, the waiter begins clearing the table before everyone is finished eating. This also occurs at friends’ homes and even at my own home.
We have dinner guests about two times a month. What should I say when one or more of my guests gets up and begins to clear the dishes while I am not even half finished with my dinner? Surely the guest is trying help, and I do not want to embarrass or admonish a guest. “Please be seated until everyone is finished with their dinner” just does not sound right. Do you have a solution?
A: Always. To waitstaff and in your own home, you may politely speak up on your own or a companion’s behalf: “Oh dear, I (or friend) wasn’t quite finished yet. I am afraid you are too quick for us.”
And for guests trying to help at your home, you may add, “Please sit down and let us enjoy your company. I can clear the table when everyone is finished.”
Unfortunately, Miss Manners must caution you against saying the same at other people’s dinner tables. Then it is up to the host. Their priorities in terms of getting their guests up and out might be less hospitable than yours.
Q: Having been raised in western Europe, I still have not quite adjusted to the informality I sometimes encounter when dealing with total strangers.
How do I respond when a circa 30- to 40-year-old plumber, electrician or window cleaner addresses me — an almost 70-year-old widow — by my first name, or even calls me “Honey” or “Hon” without taking the risk that they will spread the word that rhymes with “hitch” in the community when I complain about them?
A: “That’s Mrs. Hitch to you, sir.”
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.