From time to time a co-worker and I bring in some sort of treat, such as a birthday cake or special holiday goodies, for the people in our group. Our work space is visible from the hallway, but very definitely not in a communal area.
People we don't know, who don't bother to introduce themselves, simply stop in passing, help themselves, and then go on their merry way.Our initial response was one of slack-jawed disbelief; however, the second reaction was a temptation to inquire whether these people had been raised in the proverbial barn.
Sharing is not a concern. We are simply seeking an appropriately polite yet stern remark with which to address these people.
GENTLE READER - Since you have eschewed "Where were you brought up - in a barn?" Miss Manners takes it you are looking for something polite. How about introducing yourself, asking your visitors who they are, and telling them the occasion being celebrated?
This is not to say that Miss Manners believes you need feed the entire operation. But the boundaries of an office party that is held in space plainly visible to others are vague at best. Which office supplies are intended for everyone and which are private tend to be matters of confusion, especially when the private supplies consist of food.
By treating these people as guests, you will encourage them to exhibit guestlike behavior, such as gratitude and perhaps even reciprocation.
The delicate among them will back away, saying, "I'm sorry - I had no idea this was a private party." They should be urged to stay (since they are there anyway, possibly already with a mouthful) and told that you would love to go and see them under informal circumstances, which you need not spell out as meaning when they are serving something to eat.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - My 28-year-old daughter will be marrying for the second time, and she would like her 7-year-old daughter to be a flower girl.
However, she feels that her 8-year-old son is a little old to be a ring bearer, so she would like him to come in from the side, as is the custom in our church, with the groom and groomsmen, and stand next to the best man at the altar.
Do you agree that he is too old to be a ring bearer, and if so, is this a viable alternative?
In either case, what is the proper attire? Neither of us cares for tuxes on little boys, but we feel he is too big for short pants.
GENTLE READER - Miss Manners finds herself amused at how you managed, with one question, to arouse both what is rigid about etiquette and what is flexible. She is in the peculiar position of wanting to back you up and to lighten you up at the same time.
Absolutely, miniature versions of gentlemen's evening clothes are not worn by boys under the age of 18. Miss Manners is even more firm about that than you are.
But she would never never try to explain to a child that the one-year age difference between him and his sister means that she will have a major role in the wedding party and he will not. No rule of etiquette draws such a fine line, which is likely to arouse hurt feelings.
Miss Manners would prefer to have both children standing at the altar witnessing the ceremony at close hand, since it affects them so directly. She is not, frankly, enamored of the idea of having one's children as bridal attendants. But given the choice, she would choose an inclusive arrangement over an exclusive one any time.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - I am a married 26-year-old career woman, and with every year that progresses, I seem to be asked more and more, "When are you going to have a baby?" I'm very tired of hearing this from co-workers and clients, as well as from family and friends.
Unfortunately, because of a medical condition, my husband and I are cautioned not to have a baby, although we would like one.
I've tried responses like "How soon do you have to know?" but it really doesn't seem to help. Would you please offer me an effective retort. I feel it's none of these people's business.
GENTLE READER - Actually Miss Manners thought your answer was a scream, and she can't understand why it didn't work. What did these people possibly find to reply?
Oh, never mind. Those who cannot learn from a joke (this one being just this side of Miss Manners' line distinguishing jokes from insulting retorts, which she does not allow) must be told, "That is something I do not care to discuss."Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions other than through this column.