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Miss Manners: It’s your choice but place settings need not match

Wed., Sept. 2, 2009

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have two small sets of silver, one containing about six place settings, and the other four. Since we are young and do not have complete sets of all the nice things, we do not host formal meals.

Is it all right if we use both sets of silver at the same meal for an informal dinner with more than six people attending? Would the same apply to mismatching dinnerware or glassware?

Everything we have is a happy potluck of whatever was lovingly passed down to us on the occasion of our wedding, matching or not. We are proud of it, but the impression we receive from etiquette literature is that there is something inappropriate about a nonmatching table.

GENTLE READER: “Etiquette literature”? Miss Manners assures you that the only legitimate requirements of etiquette in regard to table setting are that you provide whatever equipment is needed to eat the food being served, and that you attempt to make the setting aesthetically pleasing.

What is aesthetically pleasing is another matter. Some believe that can only mean matching sets. Others find it more interesting and creative to mix patterns.

But wait. There is also a subtext, which allows you to pick your snobbery. One kind holds that matching sets indicate that you can afford to buy what you use. The other holds that unmatched items indicate that you are not, as the British disdainfully say, “the sort of people who buy their silver,” but whose who inherit it.

Naturally, Miss Manners abhors all forms of snobbery. But you need not be intimidated by the former kind, since it is trumped by the latter.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m very young, in college, have a major that I really enjoy, and like filling my schedule up with hobbies and activities that make me happy. For some reason, though, people have taken a huge interest in my (lack of) love life.

One person keeps asking me if I am “happy” even though I am single. I enjoy life and love learning about my classes and quite frankly do not want to date because it would take time away from my studies.

What is a polite way to tell people to mind their own business and just because I chose to be single does not, in any way, make me less happy than them?

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I feel like I am letting people talk down to me, but then again feel like I am overreacting. I’m just looking for one of your quick quips to get people to stop bothering me.

GENTLE READER: “You’re so kind to worry about my private life. But I assure you that your worry is misplaced.”

It’s not a quip, Miss Manners admits, but then, people do not find it funny to be told to mind their own business. This makes the point about your life being private and, for good measure, leaves them with thwarted curiosity about whether your life is happy because you are mated or because you are not.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.

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