Q: I inherited a beautiful set of sterling flatware, made in 1908, that had belonged to my grandparents. There are 12 spoons of which I can’t figure out the use: They are the size of what we would today use as serving spoons — but 12 of them!
They can’t be soup spoons because I also inherited another silver set from 1917 — a different pattern — and those have the traditional round spoons. Can you help me figure out what was the purpose of these spoons?
A: Certainly. You only have to realize that your ancestors were more precise about their silverware than people are apt to be today.
Your grandparents were indeed eating soup with those large oval spoons, just not creamed soup, which requires the round spoons that your other relatives thoughtfully provided. Should you someday inherit small round-bowled spoons, Miss Manners will consider your life complete, as you will then also be able to eat bouillon properly.
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Q: My husband and I own a small business together. For a bit, our oldest son worked with us. He no longer does, and because of drug and mental health issues, we had to file a restraining order against him.
Since he worked there, occasionally we have to field questions on how he is doing. I have been pretty good with a vague, “Like many young adults, he is out there trying to find his way.”
My husband hasn’t handled this well at all and tends to overshare, explaining exactly what happened and how he feels about it. While I appreciate how much our son’s actions have hurt him, I don’t feel this is appropriate — we’re there to listen to our customers’ life stories, not the other way around.
I have tried diverting the conversation by being lighthearted about it; I have asked him in private to please stop oversharing our personal life with our customers; and I have tried abruptly saying, “Enough about our son. How have YOU been?” hoping he’ll take the hint.
All to little effect. Is there a polite way that I can shut down a line of conversation before he gets going?
A: You might point out to your husband that if your son is able to overcome his problems, he will have the additional burden of dealing with his father’s public condemnation. While Miss Manners also recognizes that your husband needs an outlet for his anguish, you might steer him to intimates who, like yourself, can sympathize without going public.
If neither of these works, you could break in by saying soothingly, “Forgive us; we are understandably distraught” before proceeding immediately and firmly to business.
Q: How do you fend off rude questions from co-workers, such as, “That’s a nice sweater. Is it NEW?”
I find they often like to look me up and down, scrutinizing every thread and every sleeve on my apparel, as they ask this question. While I don’t mind compliments about my clothes, I do mind the judgment that follows these supposedly thoughtful remarks.
A: “I’m glad you like it.” Miss Manners assures you that there is less thought and judgment going into those remarks than you think. That admirers deeply care about the provenance of your sweater strikes her as unlikely.
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.