Q: My wife caught me eating at the sink.
I said: “I bet Miss Manners eats at the sink.”
She said: “Miss Manners gets served by waiters and footmen.”
Please resolve the correctness of standing and eating at the sink.
A: You are both wrong about Miss Manners’ dining habits, but that should not be the issue here. The issue is not even whether one should eat at the sink.
Rather, it is getting caught eating at the sink.
Unlike morals, manners apply only when they affect other people. Much as we admire those who behave perfectly (or so they say) when they are unobserved, their virtue is unconnected with etiquette.
It is possible that many unsavory things go on in kitchens, and Miss Manners, for one, is grateful not to witness them. She has never understood the restaurant fad for having openly visible kitchens. So the next time you eat at the sink or lick the ladle or stick a spoon into the ice cream carton, make sure the kitchen door is closed.
Q: It seems that many people are taking adages stressing the importance of laughing at oneself a bit too far.
Many times, I have been inconvenienced by the small mistakes of others and stood ready to forgive and forget, if only an apology were provided. For example, the teacher of an exercise class might forget to bring a necessary item, thus diminishing the students’ experience, or a doctor’s desk staff might be away from the desk, backs turned and munching cake, initially ignoring patients. In one case, I attended a party during which a fellow guest soiled my friend’s floor with dirty shoes.
Small apologies were the only things necessary in each case, but they were not offered. Instead, each offender broke into laughter, adding jovially, “Oh, we’re too busy eating to care about patients!” or, “Oh my gosh! I am getting dirt on your floor! Ha ha ha!”
I take it that these people would like their victims to laugh along, but, while none of these things is of monumental importance, they are also not humorous in any way. I have trouble laughing at anything but a good joke, and the fact that others do not care if they inconvenience me does not cause me to giggle.
What is the proper response? Am I correct that the minor offenders are behaving improperly by substituting laughter for an apology?
A: There is nothing that chills misplaced laughter so much as a blank look and silence, Miss Manners has observed. But if that doesn’t prompt an apology, you can say, “I don’t get it. What’s so funny?” This gives the offender the opportunity to retreat by claiming to have laughed only out of embarrassment.
Q: What is best and most appropriate for the mother of the groom to wear to an elegant, outdoor barn wedding venue? The bride is wearing a beautiful off-white, strapless, mermaid-style bridal gown.
A: Never having understood the concept of a wedding “theme,” Miss Manners does not need to dwell on the mental picture of a mermaid in a barn.
Neither do you. Whatever the bridal industry may claim, the couple’s mothers are not specifically costumed, but may wear whatever they like in keeping with the degree of formality that applies to the other guests.
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.