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Miss Manners: In a pickle over seldom-used silverware

Judith Martin

Dear Miss Manners: I have been very fortunate to have been given a lovely, very full set of family silver, which I would like to put to good use. After some research, I have identified all the different pieces, and I seem to have a dozen pickle forks but no oyster forks.

Miss Manners, forgive my ignorance, what does one use a pickle fork to eat? Do people actually only eat pickles with them? Was there a time when people ate more pickles than they do now?

I associate pickles with outdoor barbecues, not a dinner with silver. My whole family (including the relative who gifted me the silver) is at a loss. Would it be terribly gauche of me to use a pickle fork as an oyster fork instead, so as to get more use out of it?

Gentle Reader: You mean you don’t give pickle parties? Well, for goodness’ sake, what do you do for fun?

Neither did your ancestors, Miss Manners is guessing. It is true that pickles used to come to the table, rather than being kept outdoors, but not because people sat around making their lips puckered. Pickle forks were used to spear pickles from a pickle dish, unless pickle tongs were being used to spear pickles from a pickle castor.

You could indeed use the three-tined ones as oyster forks, or, if yours have two tines, you could use them as butter picks. Miss Manners is the only person who would notice the substitution, and she promises not to tell.

Dear Miss Manners: I volunteer for an organization that helps unemployed women re-enter the workplace. Every year, we hold a silent auction event that raises more than half of the organization’s annual budget, and I approach businesses to donate goods or services toward the silent auction. I initially approach the owner or manager by e-mail with a follow-up telephone call and then another follow-up e-mail – all very clear on why I am contacting them and thanking them in advance for their consideration.

It is amazing to me how many – the vast majority – of these businesses do not respond at all! A simple “No, thank you” or “We are unable to participate at this time” would be sufficient. I understand that they may receive many such requests, but to ignore them is frustrating and rude.

Don’t they understand that I am a potential customer of their business and the bad impression that this behavior leaves? I thought that, with the difficult economy, businesses would improve their customer service and basic manners. What gives?

Gentle Reader: Far be it from Miss Manners to countenance any failure to respond – to invitations, presents, favors and other such kindly offers.

But admirable people who are involved with charities tend to forget that an offer to contribute is not really an offer – it is a solicitation. In such a case, silence is a response. It should be accepted gracefully – without the sly insinuation that you might become their customer in return for donations – if for no other reason than that you may want to try them again.

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