Q: We are having a debate at work: Is it rude to eat from the second layer of chocolates before the first is all gone?
A: This is an archaeological question, the answer to which will depend on the delicacy of the upper strata, the amount of effort required to excavate, and the urgency with which you need to decamp before local inhabitants or law enforcement — or the people behind you in line — become threatening.
Miss Manners urges you to resist the temptation to dig if access to the second layer will require more than cursory adjusting of food destined for other people, and certainly if it may damage such food. Deftly and discreetly lifting out a plastic tray to make a selection may be acceptable; hovering over the chocolates or turning them over for inspection is not.
Q: The venue for our son’s wedding will not hold all the guests that he, his fiance and his parents want to invite. We believe the nuptial pair should have priority and choose the invitees.
How should we parents communicate with friends and relatives we cannot invite: phone or write them to explain/apologize prior to the nuptials, inform them afterward or stay mum?
A: Was the choice of venue beyond the control of yourself, your son, his fiance and the fiance’s parents? Miss Manners asks because, assuming someone in that group chose the location, the only possible explanation is that the venue was more important than the guests.
This is not comforting to the person who was not invited. An apology would have the same problem, with the added benefit that you might also find yourself blaming a current or future family member for the hurtful choice.
Your newly expanded family may face thornier problems in the future, but solving this problem jointly is a good place to begin to act in concert. Invite the people whom the couple and immediate family jointly consider indispensable, ideally because they are your most intimate friends and family.
You can then apologize to everyone else, using the excuse that the couple opted for a small, intimate ceremony. The reason, stated or implied, should be that the couple was being understandably romantic, not that they were counting the silverware. To those who wish to accuse Miss Manners of proposing that your son begin his new life based on a lie, she answers that she hopes his new life will begin on a basis of consideration for others.
Q: How does one go about changing a future daughter-in-law’s atrocious table manners? My son is embarrassed by her manners but does not know what to do.
A: As he is about to get married, your son had better start learning. Changing the behavior of a loved one requires tact, patience —– and a willingness to accept that some behaviors cannot be changed. But something as basic as table manners deserves a frank, tactful, private conversation between the couple. Atrocious table manners, left unchecked, do not become more endearing with time.
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.