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A&E >  Food

You Don’t Have To Eat Gift Of Food

Judith Martin United Features S

Dear Miss Manners: I used to wonder why my cat never ate the mice she caught until it finally dawned on me: She was trying to recompense me for feeding her.

I read that cats are inclined atavistically to form groups with this food-sharing etiquette. It seems like she’s doing some feline duty, sharing her food when she’s given the rare opportunity to be a provider (she’s a housecat).

Do you think she expects me to eat the mouse? Or perhaps to eat it and share it with her? Do you think it hurts her feelings that I just throw out her gift? Am I being rude? Is there a way to acknowledge the gift without having to eat it?

Gentle Reader: Oh, it’s going to be one of those days, is it?

Miss Manners hates anthropomorphic questions. If she so much as hints that there might be different standards of behavior for people and animals, she is flooded with letters from insulted pet owners who tell her about the politeness and sensitivity of the animal members of their families.

Fine. But you still don’t ask them to set the table or pass the hors d’oeuvres, do you?

In an attempt to head this off, Miss Manners will play along, ignore the distinction (which is probably a huge mistake), and recite the human etiquette rule. That rule is that although you can offer a present of food, you cannot insist that the person consume it. So, your obligations to your cat’s hospitable feelings are met when you say, “How kind of you, but no, thank you.”

Dear Miss Manners: Recently my dear brother graciously invited me to his home to celebrate my birthday with a dinner party to which some of our mutual friends were also to attend. He suggested that I arrive early so that we would have a more personal visit, which of course I was most glad to do. We live over 100 miles apart and seldom see each other.

After about an hour of “catching up,” as my brother and his roommate began preparations for dinner, I asked if there was anything I could do to help. My hosts then produced the silver coffee service, a cleaning agent, and some soft cloths, therefore obliging me to fulfill the duties of “charwoman.”

May I add that the coffee service was not used at the gathering? While I personally am not above such menial labor, it does compromise one’s hygienic appearance, and I did feel a bit embarrassed at the dinner table.

Is it acceptable, after offering assistance, to refuse a task that should not have remained until the last minute? Or at the next informal occasion, arrive with rubber gloves and knee pads in tow? Or do I sit by expecting to be catered to, appearing to be unappreciative of the efforts made to ensure an enjoyable, informal gathering?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is not in the habit of psychoanalyzing the childhood influences of people who come to her with etiquette problems. But she really does need the background to this problem.

Did you grow up doing the domestic chores while your brother was excused? Do you assume, perhaps from ancient but painful experience, that it is dangerous to oppose his wishes?

Otherwise, this would be a relatively simple problem.

If asked to polish the silver, you reasonably could have said, “No, it’s too messy a job, and I want to look nice for your guests” and have offered to do something else. Or if you had agreed to polish it, you could have prompted him affectionately to use the silver service after dinner by declaring, “After all that polishing, we forgot the coffee!”


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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