Q: My girlfriend is very particular about table manners. She makes a point of leaving a scattering of food on her plate at the end of a meal rather than finishing every crumb as I do.
I know it only amounts to one or two forkfuls, but having traveled extensively in very poor countries, I think this is wasteful and absurd. The plates are also harder to wash. What are your thoughts?
A: That she would like to be excused before someone discovers her responsibility in this matter. But that would be cowardly.
The sad truth is that a century ago, it was indeed the case that children in families that could afford it were taught not to finish everything on their plates. The embarrassing part is that the rule was phrased as “Leave something for Miss Manners” (and in England, “Leave something for Lady Manners”).
So yes, while some people were starving, others were wasting food. Miss Manners was not starving, because she got all the rich folks’ leftovers.
It was Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandmother who repealed this rule. As recounted in Mrs. Roosevelt’s “Book of Common Sense Etiquette”: “My grandmother came to believe that food was needed in the world and we who had an abundance should not waste it.”
Miss Manners agrees thoroughly and, as you might notice, selflessly.
Q: Is it rude for two co-workers to carry on a whispered conversation in the next cubicle? Would it be rude to ask them to whisper a little bit louder?
A: What, exactly, would you say? “I’m so sorry, but could you speak a bit louder, please? I’m having trouble eavesdropping.”
Q: Friends like to lend me books because they know I like to read.
Almost all my reading is done electronically, by borrowing books from the local library. I am notified by email when a title that I have requested is available. I then have a window of time to read that book before the book is gone from my reading device.
Should I read the lent book from a friend first, and possibly not get my own book read in time, or should I read my own book first, and read my friend’s book only when I don’t have any of my own books pending, thereby keeping my friend’s book longer then the lender might have intended, although never specified?
A: Well, then, specify.
Miss Manners rather doubts that people recommend and then lend books unless they have already finished reading them, or never intend to do so. Thus, there is probably not a rush to get them back. But she does understand that a point can be reached when the lender begins to think that the book will never find its way home.
So she suggests saying, “It could be a while before I get to it. Shall I ask you for it then, or is it all right if I take it now?”
Q: How do I politely state that lunch will not be provided on a birthday party invitation?
A: By saying it will be at 10:30 a.m., or 3 p.m., or midnight. Just don’t hold it at lunchtime.
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.