Dear Miss Manners: Please come to my aid by placing on the rude scale the following:
1. Inviting people to your home and ambushing them with wedding or vacation videos.
2. Inviting people to dinner and serving them food that you prepare without fat or oils because you prefer it, when you know your guests will not.
Gentle Reader: Sorry as she is that you had a dull time of it, Miss Manners has to tell you that she doubts that your fatless-but-fatuous friends made a serious dent in the rudeness scale. True, they should have warned you about the videos and might have slipped something fatty onto your plate unless they never have it in the house.
But motivation also counts. Unless they planned to amuse themselves by insulting your palate and boring you senseless, they are only misguided hosts, not seriously rude ones.
Because I say so
Dear Miss Manners: Years ago, when I was raising my children, I did my best to inculcate them with the basic rules of etiquette, in the hopes that proper behavior would eventually become automatic. One of these rules was "Always put your napkin in your lap."
In their charming, childish way, they would sometimes protest, "But I never spill food in my lap."
I'm sorry to say that my response usually was something like "That's the rule" or another variation on "Because I said so . . . " It sometimes seemed they did have a point.
Now that they've grown up and it is too late for explanations (although they still do as they were told), I have been pondering the basis for these rules, created to prevent giving offense or, in the case of table manners, possibly causing physical revulsion.
I had a sudden epiphany, in which I realized that since napkins are meant to clean our fingers and lips, especially before using a drinking glass, we are supposed to keep them in our laps to spare others the offense of seeing them after they have been used. I write to you in hopes of verifying my theory.
I missed my chance with my own children, but I'd like to be armed with an undeniably reasonable explanation when my grandchildren come along.
Gentle Reader: Miss Manners advises you to stick to "That's the rule" and "Because I said so."
Etiquette does have a great many rules designed to spare others discomfort, and they are taught to children by the "How would you feel if . . . " method. But it also has a great many arbitrary rules, which nevertheless have become so much a part of the cultural tradition that defying them is an affront, even if they are not intrinsically offensive.
Why is burping offensive in some cultures but not in others? Why was spitting -- and smoking, for that matter -- once acceptable in our own, but is now offensive?
So while you are right that a soiled napkin is unappetizing (one reason Miss Manners despises restaurants where a waiter refolds the napkin of someone who is temporarily absent and returns it to the table), your future grandchildren will be quick to ask why they can't keep an unused napkin on the table.
Tell them it's because you and Miss Manners say so.
Address your etiquette questions to Miss Manners, in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.