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Miss Manners: Dinner guests who do too much pose quandary

DEAR MISS MANNERS – I hosted a small dinner party for eight, serving the following courses: appetizer, soup, main meal, dessert. One of my guests finished her appetizer and, attempting to be helpful, began to clear plates while others were still eating.

This prompted others to also get up to help. Within moments, half my guests were clearing while the other half were still eating! I like to wait until everyone has finished the course before I begin clearing, to avoid those still eating feeling rushed.

I did not ask them to stop clearing, nor did I get up to assist in the clearing until the last guest had finished eating. By the time they started prematurely clearing the third course, I was seething.

This has happened in the past and I still can’t figure out how to handle it. Am I wrong to wait to begin clearing until everyone has finished the current course?

GENTLE READER – No, but you have a different wrong idea about how a hostess should behave.

It is your house. You are presiding at your own table. Why would you just sit there and seethe when you are the person in charge?

Yes, Miss Manners understands that your guests are only trying to help and you do not want to be severe with them. They probably picked up their service ideas from waiters who hope to indicate that they expect everyone to eat up and make way for more customers.

But you must be firm. “Please, everyone, sit down,” you should have said. “We’re not all finished eating yet.” And if you encountered disobedience, you should have continued by using names: “Olivia, please sit down; we’re not all finished eating. Jackson, please sit down. Kelsey, please sit down. …”

DEAR MISS MANNERS – My husband and I purchased a backyard hot tub, which we enjoy immensely. Our desire was the therapeutic benefits for sore muscles and arthritis and stress relief. We have also discovered it is a wonderful venue for our time together to catch up after a long day at work.

Acquaintances have asked when they can come over for a “hot tub party.” How are we to respond to a request such as this?

I don’t want to appear rude, but their request is something we’re simply not interested in. And frankly, I think their boldness is discourteous. What are your thoughts?

GENTLE READER – Since it would be outrageous for people to propose themselves as guests, Miss Manners suggests that you not treat such statements as such. You need say only, “Oh, we don’t give hot tub parties.” If you did, but naturally for guests of your own choosing, you would merely change it to “we rarely give hot tub parties.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS – When giving a magazine subscription, for one year, as a gift, is the giver then expected to renew the subscription? Is it impolite to ask if the recipient is enjoying the magazine before renewing?

GENTLE READER – Polite people are not going to tell you if they use the issues for kindling. Miss Manners suggests now and then mentioning a prominent article from the magazine. If the recipient always looks puzzled, it is time for you to think of a different present. If he is only behind because he reads every word, he can renew it for himself.

If you would like a copy of Miss Manners’ newsletters, “On Cellular Phone Courtesy,” “The Etiquette of Proper Eating” or “Proper Wedding Planning,” please send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope and $2 (per newsletter) to Newsletter, PO Box 167, Wicliffe, OH 44092-0167. Please state which newsletter(s) you wish to receive.


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