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THE DILEMMA OF DINING WITH A LEFTIE

Dear Miss Manners: My boss, a well-educated lady with a Ph.D., always holds her fork in her left hand, not just when she has a knife in her right hand. The same goes when she is using a spoon.

This is, of course, none of my business. However, on an occasion when we co-workers celebrated a special occasion, I found myself sitting next to her, and when coffee was served, she took my cup. Hers stayed unused on her other side.

Not knowing what to do or say, I did not drink any coffee. What should I do if this happens again and I want to enjoy a cup of coffee? It could also happen with my glass of wine, depending.

Shouldn't left-handed people perhaps be seated together in order to avoid such a situation?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners tries very hard to sympathize with her Gentle Readers; really she does. But because you missed out on one cup of coffee, you want her to segregate left-handed people?

Not even the fear that you might miss a glass of wine would tempt Miss Manners to agree that any physical characteristic is more important than compatibility when doing seating arrangements.

Anyway, it was not this trivial error that left you deprived, but your making too much of it. Surely you could have asked your boss for the empty coffee cup at her right without risking your job. Failing the nerve to do that, you could have simply mentioned to whoever was serving that you seemed to be lacking a cup.

Too clean for comfort

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I moved to an adult community that we love and put in endless hours to make our home lovely and comfortable.

Most people are kind and complimentary when viewing our home, yet I have gotten such comments as:

"You and I could never be friends, you're too perfect!"

"Don't come to my home -- mine would be crummy next to yours!"

"When you are invited to our home, don't expect ours to be a showcase like yours!"

And so on and on.

We entertain a lot because we like people, but remarks like this shock me. When I enter someone's home, my interest is always on the people and I rarely notice what a person has.

Gentle Reader: You are interested in other people and in your possessions, Miss Manners gathers. But you live in a society where it is more usual to be interested in other people's possessions and oneself.

This skewed way of looking at things is so common that these people think they were paying you a compliment by announcing that they so envied your house that they were reconsidering entertaining you.

But because they considered their feelings so unexceptional that they could express them to you -- and felt you must share them -- we shall assume that they meant no harm but were simply blathering in an attempt to say something nice. Besides, Miss Manners wants to save you the trouble of moving.

Stuck in traffic

Dear Miss Manners -- How can one handle the situation of two cars stopped in the middle of the street, while the occupants of both carry on a conversation? Or of one car stopped in the traffic lane while a pedestrian walks to the center of the street to talk to the driver?

Wait, hoping they notice you and move?

Wait, glare and fume?

Honk and hope you get nothing more than a glare?

Honk to warn them, then try to find a way around the blockage, hoping that the pedestrian doesn't back into your path, or that one of the cars doesn't start forward just as you succeed in inching past them?

Swerve past them?

If one is a neighbor, wait and make a polite request at some later time?

Gentle Reader -- It is of intense regret to Miss Manners that the use of the horn, once charmingly known as the voice of the motor car, has been so abused as to make any use of that instrument seem rude.

She unfortunately knows what you mean by hoping for nothing more than a glare. You are hoping that the peep of a horn does not result in your neighbor's stepping out of the car and shooting you dead on the claim -- attributed, of course, to a high sense of etiquette -- that you have demonstrated disrespect.

Yet you must indicate that your way has been blocked by the choice of the middle of the road for socializing, and you must do it without endangering yourself or anyone else.

Presuming that the incident is more than a quick plea for directions or exchange of greetings, put your head out your window and shout a pleasant, "Excuse me!" When they look up, announce without apparent rancor, "I need to get by."

If you are too far away for that and it is daylight (at night, blinking lights is a lower-key way of getting attention than the horn), try a quick tap on the horn to produce nothing more than a peep. On getting their attention, an apologetic smile and a shrug is the polite way to say, "You probably don't realize that you are blocking traffic."

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