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Miss Manners: Engagement ring is for future bride, not for her friends

Dear Miss Manners: I am a young woman in her early 20s whose friends are being proposed to and becoming engaged. I have noticed that when these young ladies present their happy news in social settings, the other women ask to see the ring. When the ring is obligingly passed around, many women try it on.

I seem to be the only one who doesn’t do so. I have always assumed that the engagement ring was something that a woman other than whom it was presented to was not to try on, since it is ostensibly a symbol of the promise between the happy couple to be wed.

My friends say it doesn’t matter as long as the lady who owns it has passed it around, since that signals that the other ladies may try it on their hands, but I am not quite so certain. Am I wrong to simply admire the ring in my hand (rested on the palm) rather than on it?

Gentle Reader: Ladies old enough to wed should have emerged from the “show and tell” years, but apparently many have not. Passing around the engagement ring is only slightly more decorous than passing around the bridegroom.

When it gets to you, Miss Manners encourages you to express admiration, but you are under no obligation to bite it, try it on or ask the price.

An unoffensive mess kit?

Dear Miss Manners: If I attend a cocktail party in a friend’s or acquaintance’s home, and I know from the past that wine will be served in disposable plastic cups and food will be served with plastic forks on paper plates, is there any chance that I can get away with bringing my own mess kit?

I’ve done it at street festivals and it’s fairly discreet, though it does attract some attention. I carry a small collapsible stainless steel cup wherever I go, and I wonder if it would be acceptable to use at parties.

I can think of several arguments for this practice and several against. I do wonder if I might be at an advantage trying this now, rather than five or 10 or 20 years ago; now the trend is to appreciate efforts toward “greening.”

Gentle Reader: Much as she loathes eating from soggy plates with fragile forks, and drinking from crackable cups, Miss Manners is even more opposed to criticizing one’s host – even by implication, and even in the name of saving the planet. The clear indication of your mess kit is that visiting that person’s home is like camping out.

Besides, there is no chance in the world that producing a collapsible cup at a cocktail party can be done so discreetly as to make it acceptable. The ban does not extend to the street fair, for which there is no host to offend.

This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s son, Nicholas Ivor Martin.