DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am looking for the correct answer to the following question: What happens if you are at a formal dinner and realize you are using the wrong piece of silverware for a given course?
GENTLE READER: You go on eating. Everyone else goes on eating and talking. Perhaps an alert server discreetly slips you a replacement. If not, you eat the next course with the utensil that you should have used for the previous one.
The only person upset by your problem is Miss Manners, and not because someone might confuse the flatware. That is a situation in which nobody gets hurt.
What bothers her is the suspicion that you were hoping to set Miss Manners up to declare that you would be scorned and drummed out of society — thus enabling you to carry on about how shallow “society” and its rules are.
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Take disses in stride
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Next week we are hosting a fundraising gala for a charity whose founder is also a very prominent and successful businessman. There will be six people roasting him — all in good fun and humor.
As there will also be a brief program about the nonprofit organization, a silent auction, a live auction and a paddle auction in addition to the roast, what is the appropriate response of the person being roasted at the end of the evening? A few comments and a brief rebuttal? An extensive addressing of each roaster’s comments and a bit of one-upmanship? How long should his comments take?
GENTLE READER: Being roasted requires tenderness and submission to being chewed over. Ask any chicken or turkey. However well intended, it is not always, Miss Manners acknowledges, an enviable situation. But it must be accepted with grace.
So no, your target should offer neither a rebuttal nor counterattacks on the roasters. The humor that is chiefly expected of him is to take it all in good-natured fashion. His first duty is to laugh when others do.
In acknowledging their efforts, the tack he should take is that they really have his number, and he is grateful for their putting up with him anyway. If he can do this with wit and brevity — your program hardly sounds brief — all the better.
Channel excitement elsewhere
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it impolite to ask to be in someone’s wedding party, or is it OK? And does it make any difference if it is a young girl/child who is a family member?
Situation: Wedding plans are all set. Four weeks before the wedding, the uncle of the bride contacts her, saying his young daughter would like to know if she could be a bridesmaid or flower girl.
The bride is now feeling awkward and doesn’t know how to respond. Bottom line is that she doesn’t want another flower girl or bridesmaid, but the question of etiquette is also in debate.
GENTLE READER: It is true that one should not volunteer to be a wedding attendant; one should wait to be asked. But you are talking about a little girl, the bride’s cousin, who is overexcited about the wedding. Don’t you find a bit of mitigating charm in that?
The uncle would have been better advised to tell his daughter that being a wedding guest is itself an honor and to divert her attention to what she will wear, how much she will enjoy the wedding cake and so on. If he felt close enough to confess her wish to the bride, he should have apologetically explained her enthusiasm and merely asked if there were some tiny task she could do.
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