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Miss Manners: No place for phones on the table

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin Andrews McMeel Syndication

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a niece who insists you have not addressed the issue of where to place cellphones in a formal table setting.

She has a strong opinion that when seated, one should remove the napkin to one’s lap and place the cellphone where the napkin was set.

GENTLE READER: Indeed, Miss Manners has addressed the issue of where to place cellphones at any table setting, formal or not. It is with the wraps.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: In a best-selling novel I read, a female character that we aren’t supposed to like is humiliated at dinner for not removing her hat. Readers are supposed to cheer.

This seems to me to be a mistaken use of etiquette as a weapon. Never mind about the unacceptability of humiliating a dinner guest – what say you, regarding women hatted at table?

GENTLE READER: Not having had the pleasure (or not) of reading this novel, Miss Manners can only rule that humiliating someone far exceeds any error that could be made at dinner with a hat, with the possible exception of passing it for contributions.

The traditional rule is that ladies may wear hats during the daytime, including at lunch. This was evening, however, when such a thing as a cocktail hat – a bit of whimsical fluff appearing to have landed on the head by accident – was considered permissible.

But as this is apparently a current novel, these forms of headwear are not in common use. Baseball caps, being unisex, are always wrong indoors, with no gender exceptions allowed.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Living in a remote vacation destination, I receive frequent requests from friends and acquaintances to stay in my home. I try to accommodate people with whom I have kept in touch.

Given the travel distance, most guests wish to stay one to two weeks. This is often much longer than the closeness of the relationship dictates, but I try to help make their stay more reasonably priced and enjoyable.

Some of my guests realize that long visits can be disruptive to the host’s life. They pitch in around the house, provide me time to keep my life going, and carry their weight financially.

Some behave as though I am running a tourism charity (expecting daily guided tours and nightly home-cooked meals). These same guests are also more likely to nickel and dime me on gas and food expenses, and are unlikely to help out with household chores.

Given the high cost of living here and the number of guests in my home, I cannot afford to provide my guests much beyond a clean house, and the occasional trip to the beach or sightseeing.

It feels awfully brusque to give potential guests a list of rules to agree to before booking their flight, or to tell them, “You’re on your own.” Is there a polite way to convey these limitations without alienating them?

GENTLE READER: Rather than abdicating responsibility and letting them alienate you?

Miss Manners understands that you only mean to be hospitable. But part of being a host is to set the terms of a visit. Not only does this mean mentioning the specific days, but saying, when necessary, “You should know that I have a lot of obligations then, so I hope you won’t mind being on your own a lot.”

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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