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Miss Manners: 7-year-old is eager to be lady at table

Dear Miss Manners: I have a 7-year-old daughter who is very interested in learning how to become a lady. We practice formal dining situations, and she has been asking some questions that I do not know how to answer, as I was raised a bumpkin myself:

• If someone wants more dessert, may they ask for seconds?

• What do you call a lady-child or a child-gentleman?

• If Mommy is the hostess, can the child help her bring things to the table, or does she have to sit like a statue?

• And her cutest question: If a child makes everyone at the dinner table laugh and spit out their food, what are we supposed to do next?

Gentle Reader: Presuming that you refrain from spitting out your food, you seem to have outgrown bumpkinhood. Miss Manners doubts that you would otherwise have reared a daughter with an awareness of – and even interest in – etiquette. She offers congratulations on that. It might be even more interesting (and instructive) for your daughter to dramatize what piqued her curiosity.

What if she were the hostess, and her guests asked for seconds, but there wasn’t enough to go around? Yet if she did have more dessert to offer, she would be likely to produce it when guests merely said how delicious it was. So, no, don’t ask outright, because you might embarrass the hostess by implying that she didn’t make enough.

Miss Manners is afraid to ask what a lady-child or a child-gentleman is exactly. But Miss Manners imagines someone of, say, 7 would be flattered to be addressed as “Miss Emily” or “Miss Jones” (or “Master,” for a boy).

Third, if she were a guest, what would she think of a young person who sat like a statue, letting her mother do all the work? Surely, she should be acting as a deputy hostess. Not only should the child of the hostess offer to help, it is her duty.

A main rule of comedy is to know your audience. If you know that they have just taken a big bite of food, maybe it is not the moment to tell them your best joke. But if food is expelled with the laugh, the deputy hostess would good-naturedly offer to help clean up, skipping over the possibility of embarrassment.

Getting lowdown on ‘high tea’

Dear Miss Manners: Are open-face cucumber sandwiches served at high tea with a fork or as finger food?

Gentle Reader: It is not easy to cut a cucumber with a fork. Fortunately, it is not necessary to try, as tea sandwiches are finger food.

However, Miss Manners must correct your misuse of the term “high tea,” which is a light, informal supper, with more fortifying food than cucumber sandwiches. Those are served at what is simply called afternoon tea, or even just “tea.”