June 10, 2011 in Features

Breaking free from ‘Ancient Mariner’

Judith Martin, United Feature Syndicate

DEAR MISS MANNERS – Have you ever been physically restrained by someone so that she might continue her conversation?

Well, that is exactly what happened to me at church last week. I was exchanging pleasantries with an acquaintance while waiting on my husband to pick me up. When I saw him pull up, I said something along the lines of “Oh, that’s George; he’s out front in the car. It’s been good to see you. (It hadn’t.) I’ll see you next Sunday.”

Miss Manners, this woman reached out and took hold of my arm and held on to me to keep me there! She wasn’t even trying to finish her sentence; she began talking on a new subject! I knew from past interaction that she doesn’t seem to recognize polite social cues, but I didn’t expect such selfish behavior.

I just kept smiling and backing away and agreeing sympathetically (the subject was her children) and reminding her that I really had to go and that I hoped George wasn’t blocking the drive.

She was oblivious. I backed all the way to the door and there she released me. All in all, it took me about five minutes to “escape.” I think she would’ve followed me out to the car if it hadn’t been raining buckets. How should I handle this if it happens again?

GENTLE READER – Ah, so that’s where the Ancient Mariner hangs out now.

As you may recall from the Coleridge poem, the classic victim of this treatment exclaims “Hold off! Unhand me, grey-beard loon!” but still can’t get away. Fixed by the Ancient Mariner’s glittering eye, he gives up and misses the wedding feast of his next-of-kin, only to endure 142 verses of sea story.

The next day, he counts himself a sadder and wiser man. Presumably that is because he has learned that “He prayeth best, who lovest best/All things both great and small” and therefore to avoid killing albatrosses. But Miss Manners has always suspected that he has also learned to pull away and say firmly, “Excuse me, I really must go” while making a dash for it.

DEAR MISS MANNERS – My husband believes that when setting a table, a soup/table spoon, dinner/place fork, and knife should always be provided, regardless of what will be served. I contend that only flatware appropriate for the meal being served need be provided. That is, if there will be no soup course, one need not include a soup spoon in the setting.

It seems to me that otherwise, there could theoretically be no end to which flatware should be provided, and surely we do not need cocktail forks at breakfast.

Can you please “set” us straight?

GENTLE READER – While Miss Manners is willing to overlook that pun, she cannot easily forgive your husband his mistake. His is a notion that has considerably blackened the reputation of the noble art of etiquette.

Laying out all the utensils – and it is astonishing how many possibilities there are – would turn the pleasure of mealtime into an unpleasant guessing game. Only the necessary utensils for each particular meal should be set out, and furthermore, they should be set on each side of the plate in the outside-to-inside order in which the corresponding courses will appear. We do not want to ruin anyone’s digestion with trick settings.

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.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email