Updated: April 4, 2013 6:07AM
Dear Miss Manners: I’ve been eating out for more than half a century and can’t recall a single occasion when my lap napkin prevented a spill onto my pants. All it ever did was fall on the floor.
From your position of prominence, could you not make a plea for rationality? So many times a napkin could have saved me from getting spaghetti, wine or grease on my shirt front, necktie or suit.
Shouldn’t manners make sense instead of being a stupid formality that prevents you from embarrassing yourself?
Gentle Reader: Rationality in etiquette? Are you out of your mind?
Well, no, Miss Manners admits that there is some, although not nearly as much as people think. The reasons tend to be invented retroactively to justify long-standing customs. And if etiquette had been arrived at through rational thought, thinking people in all cultures, at all periods of history, would behave alike (presuming they were polite).
What we are really dealing with is folk custom, and eating rituals are among the most basic of them, as any anthropologist can tell you. So it is all the more strange that many Americans, not just you, have not progressed beyond the bib stage. (The napkin is not intended to protect the lap from falling food, but to be available when needed to blot the mouth.) Miss Manners supposes it has to do with the demise of the nightly family meal.
You are suggesting that we give up and admit that we are incapable of getting food into our mouths without getting it all over ourselves. With all due sympathy to your plight, Miss Manners is unwilling to make that concession — and to lose the company of people whose appetites are adversely affected by looking at your food stains.
Dear Miss Manners: I have a friend who constantly bragged about what a wonderful marriage she had. After 30 years of marriage, her husband ran off with a gal 20 years younger. She, of course, was devastated and we all supported her.
Now it has been three years, and she is in a new relationship. Whenever a group of us are together, all of us married except her, she belittles our marriages and puts down marriage.
We are getting a bit tired of this. We listened and were supportive the first couple of years and put up with the comments due to her grief. Now we want her to stop. How to respond when she does this next time we all see her?
Gentle Reader: Each of you should respond, every time, by saying, “Next time we hope you’ll be as lucky as we are.”
It is not just because this is a kind thing to say that Miss Manners recommends it. It is also because the rehearsed chorus will alert your friend that there has been talk about her repeated disparagement of marriage, and it is time to stop.
Write to Miss Manners at www.missmanners.com