DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife is in a group of four or five women who get together for brunch once a week. Usually they meet in a restaurant, but occasionally one will host the brunch in her home.
Several weeks ago, my wife hosted the event. After the meal, when she had brought the dishes into the kitchen, she put them on the floor for our dog to lick clean before putting them in the dishwasher.
One of the women walked into the kitchen and saw this, and got physically ill. She said it was the most disgusting thing she had ever seen and will never eat at our house again. Now she is demanding an apology from my wife. Is my wife required to give her one?
GENTLE READER: The image of a dog licking the plate from which you just ate would give most people pause, admittedly for reasons that, strictly speaking, defy logic.
In her head, your guest knew that the plate was not going to be returned to the table – at least not without first going through a dishwasher. But in her heart, she momentarily thought she was being asked to eat the dog’s leftovers. (Miss Manners realizes that her flights of fancy also defy logic.)
Your wife assumed, incorrectly, that the kitchen was a “backstage” area to which no guest would be admitted. The result was embarrassing to all parties. But counteraccusations – that your guest was not supposed to see something – will only raise questions in her mind about what goes on not just after, but before, the food appears on the table. Your wife should apologize and, next time, delay Rocky’s dinner until after the guests have left for the afternoon.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I will be attending my 30-year class reunion, not having seen many of these people since our last reunion at 10 years.
I am really looking forward to the reunion, except for one thing: I lost my husband about nine months ago to suicide. I have already had well-meaning strangers ask, “What happened? Was he sick?”
I have not been able to come up with a response to this question, nor have I figured out a way to prevent the question from being asked. I want to be able to respect the loss of my husband and don’t want to just say “single” if I’m asked if I’m married.
Do you have an appropriate, respectful answer for me to give? My anxiety over this one issue is threatening to keep me from attending the reunion altogether.
GENTLE READER: Although there is no sure way to prevent the question being asked, there are ways to stop it in its tracks. “It was quite sudden,” with a full stop and a somber expression, was once enough to signal people to change the topic.
If a follow-up is necessary, Miss Manners prefers, “Can we speak about something else?” to the frank, “I’m still not able to talk about it.” The latter may result in your drink partner leaving to find someone more upbeat – but someone with so little empathy is not, perhaps, much of a loss.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.
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