Q: My siblings and I are struggling with entertaining members of the extended family: our children’s in-laws, who are used to a “camping style” lifestyle.
Must we adhere to their level of such informality at OUR houses when entertaining them?
In an effort to accommodate them, we completely scale back on the crystal and sterling and opt for stainless and regular glass, everyday china and only glasses we need, but we like to draw the line at ketchup bottles, plastic bowls, etc., at the dinner table.
Our children say that our more formal (we call it proper!) way of dining makes their in-laws and spouses uncomfortable, even at holiday time. The in-laws say, and I quote, “I’m not even going to try and compete with you” when we go to their homes.
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This is NOT a competition; it’s just how we were raised! Cloth napkins, salad fork, dinner fork, nice table setting, serving pieces for food, etc.
So is “dumbing down” necessary, or is there a way to make it known to our children that their in-laws should not be uncomfortable with our lifestyle, just as we are not uncomfortable with theirs in our respective homes?
A: The importance that many people attach to “being comfortable” is matched only by their high-minded horror at hypocrisy. But Miss Manners fears that pointing out the hypocrisy of using etiquette as a cover for making you do what they want all the time will get you nowhere. Better to explain that you are more comfortable with silver and cloth napkins in your own home and turn a deaf ear to any muttered accusations of being “old-fashioned.”
She is curious why you would normally set out glasses you don’t need. Are some members of the family particularly clumsy?
Q: Please help me to learn the proper way to eat a cupcake, as I will be attending a few parties where they will be served.
A: Remove any wrapper. Eat — placing the cupcake at an angle that minimizes the buildup of chocolate frosting on your nose. Apply napkin.
Q: My fiance has a pet peeve over lip-smacking when someone eats and points it out to me just about every time I eat around him. He is the first person to have ever mentioned this to me and is also the first to mention that it bothers him.
While I try to tone it down, it is more of a subconscious habit and is not something I am aware of (or even hear) that I am doing until he says something.
It has gotten to the point where I don’t want to eat around him! I am also starting to find that his mentioning it is nearly as rude as my doing it. What are your thoughts?
A: That, as it is rapidly getting to the point where you don’t want to eat around each other, you occupy separate tables at your wedding reception.
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.