DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I was a young boy, my father stressed upon me that gentlemen shake hands – always – with the right hand – much like soldiers always salute with the right hand.
It presented a problem later in life when I was introduced to a man who had no right hand. He extended his left hand and, remembering what my father had taught me, I took it in my right hand.
Recently, I was reading Stephen King’s “Duma Key.” The central character, who is missing his right arm, says that the person he has just met has mistakenly used his right hand to shake the character’s left hand. He was definite in the fact that doing so was “wrong.”
When shaking hands with a person who has no right hand or arm, is it proper to use the left or the right hand? I guess the same could be said for a person whose right arm is burdened with packages. Does one wait for them to shift the packages, or for both to simply acknowledge that they would forgo custom, or to use the left hand?
GENTLE READER: However much you admire Mr. King, you should not mistake his books for etiquette manuals. Miss Manners means no disrespect to that author when she warns you that it would not be a good idea to model your behavior after his characters’.
Putting out a left hand to shake an extended left hand might be graceful among friends. And it would be graceful not to attempt to shake hands with those whose arms are holding packages. But to chastise a newcomer for not immediately registering “Oh! Here’s a person with a missing hand!” is ridiculous. Polite people look each other in the eye when they meet.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I recently moved cross-country for a job opportunity. Because we did not have the time to secure an apartment before our move, my husband’s boss graciously offered his guesthouse as temporary accommodations.
When we find a place of our own (hopefully very soon as to not outwear our welcome), I would like to leave a thank you note and some token of our appreciation. Flowers for the hostess or a bottle of wine, perhaps? Is this customary or tacky?
GENTLE READER: Well, it is perfunctory. These are the sorts of things that guests bring to dinner parties, a single evening of a few hours, whereas you are receiving a house for as long as you require. That the house does not have a resident host might be considered an expression of the host’s largesse, as well as of his resources.
So Miss Manners hopes you will put a bit more thought into your token of appreciation. (She says nothing of money, because a rich helping of thoughtfulness goes a long way in compensating for a modest outlay.) Having occupied this person’s property, you had an excellent opportunity to judge his taste.