Is it improper to use a fork to eat grapefruit that has been halved and dissected, or is a spoon the preferable implement? Is it acceptable to use a fork when eating ice cream?
Our meals are always lively times for the communication of news, events and sports, in addition to personal and spiritual sharing. Your reply will add to our list of ideas.GENTLE READER - Miss Manners is delighted to hear that you do more at the table than eat. She considers this an invitation to pull up a chair and add to the discussion, rather than just to point to an implement and then go up to bed while everyone else stays up and has fun.
Let us note that we are talking slurpy food here. Those who like fresh grapefruit and those who like ice cream may not have much else in common, but they share an enthusiasm for the respective drippings of their treats.
In order to eat grapefruit halves, one really has to love them. It is so much easier to grab some juice for breakfast and not have to worry about getting to the dry cleaner's before work. Grapefruit fanciers are not going to be satisfied merely eating what they can stab and then watching the juice go down the garbage disposal with the shell.
There not being any reason to eat ice cream except that it is terrific, those who succumb are even less inclined to miss a drop. Show Miss Manners someone who eats the frozen part and leaves whatever is melting, and she will show you someone who - well, who ought to be eating grapefruit for dessert.
When there is a simple choice of flatware, spoons ought to be used for both grapefruit and ice cream. But since you like discussions, Miss Manners must go on to tell you that one needn't leave it at that. There are more interesting ways to eat each of them.
For the grapefruit, there exists a spoon that comes to a point at the tip, and sometimes has jagged sides to the bowl. This is useful for prying the meat from the skin, a procedure that one tries to perform on the fruit without also performing it on one's mouth. Older versions of these spoons are called orange spoons, because an orange was once commonly attacked in the same fashion.
The ice-cream fork would seem to contradict Miss Manners' assertion that ice cream should be eaten with a spoon, but - fooled you! - it actually is a spoon, with a very rounded bowl, only with forklike tines at the end for subduing brick-hard ice cream. There also exist ice-cream spades, which sound like an ice-cream fanatic's dream. But while it is true that these resemble shovels, they are so tiny that one can't shovel much in at once, which is probably just as well.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - I am an 18-year-old high-school student, and several months ago I got an anonymous love-hinting card from a boy. I had no idea who he was, until last month. Though I am not sure whether my guess is right, I want to talk to that boy, but I don't know how. Though we know each other, we seldom talk.
GENTLE READER - Just don't talk about the card. Miss Manners hopes she caught you before you mentioned the card and he denied sending it, either because he didn't or because of the shyness that made him send it anonymously.
But she encourages you to talk with him in general, and to make a special effort to seem receptive to whatever overtures his courage may eventually suggest to him. You may also send him elusive but soft looks without words.
This way, you are protected if your guess happens to be wrong. You may even be ahead then. After all, you like the boy you think it might be, and if misidentifying him as your admirer gives you an excuse for encouraging him, so much the better.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - I recently learned that the son of our former neighbors committed suicide about a year ago. Because they were our neighbors for many years, I felt a certain closeness to them.
My first inclination was to write them a note expressing my sympathy. My friends cautioned that since so much time has elapsed, I'd be opening an old wound, and that since suicide is taboo, they wouldn't appreciate knowing that the news had traveled to me. (I had no intention of mentioning the cause of death.)
GENTLE READER - Opening the wound? Do your friends imagine that it has closed?
Miss Manners despairs at the rationales people will invent to stamp out courtesy and kindness.
You have been close to these people, and they lost their son. As you rightly surmise, the cause of death is not a suitable topic for a letter of sympathy. Saying that you are sorry, and that you care, is.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - How old should children be for us to stop sending them cash gifts on their birthdays? Most of them never call or write. It is as though we do not exist. Yet they and their parents expect it.
GENTLE READER - Oh, they do, do they? Miss Manners is sorry to inform them that the age for sending these people presents is long past. Those beyond babyhood are responsible for understanding the legitimacy of an expectation of polite gratitude, as well as their own expectations of generosity.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - I have received from a close friend a very thoughtful gift of two videotapes, each starring a favorite actress of mine. I did notice, however, that one of the videotapes was a duplicate of one this friend gave me last year.
In my thank-you note, should I say something like "Oh, it was so thoughtful of you to get me both videotapes - I wonder if you forgot you gave me the same one last year when you started my collection?"
GENTLE READER - Do you fear a lifetime of receiving copies of this tape on every possible occasion, your smile getting more strained as your eyes seek to discover whether this friend has lost her memory?
If so, come back to Miss Manners after the fifth such instance. In the meantime, there is no excuse for the statement that someone was being thoughtful to include evidence to the contrary.