DEAR MISS MANNERS: While dining, one’s hands sometimes get sticky – say, from a sandwich and fries.
At a restaurant, when finished, I will often pour a small amount of water from my glass into the other hand held above my plate, “wash” quickly, and dry with the napkin. This is met with audible objections from my adult children.
Is it so wrong? Do I instead have to head for the men’s room?
GENTLE READER: You should head back in time because, alas, you were born too late. Much too late.
At medieval banquets, an ewer – a jug filled with rose water – and basins for slop water would be taken around so that guests could deal with the sticky finger problem. (They may not have been eating fries, but they were not using forks, either.)
A descendant of that is the individual finger bowl placed on a doily on the dessert plate with the expectation that the diner will know to move them both, as well as the dessert fork and spoon, to the side before being served dessert. (Miss Manners remembers a gentleman who failed to notice the doily, inadvertently eating it when a helping of chocolate mousse was plopped on top.)
But finger bowls are rarely used now, and then only at fancy dinners where they serve no real purpose, instead of at barbecues and lobster feasts, where they would.
Occasionally, a restaurant will offer a hot towel or, more likely, a packaged paper wipe. Failing that, Miss Manners asks you to retreat to a place designated for washing up. As your children have pointed out, the dinner table no longer is such a place.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I saw a T-shirt that I thought my daughter’s boyfriend would like. He was sick with COVID for a short while, so I made it a “get well” gift and sent it to him, wrapped, via my daughter.
The next day, I heard her on speakerphone with him and asked her if he received it. She said, “Yes, and he liked it.” He heard her and asked what she was talking about, and she told him I was asking about the T-shirt.
He said, “Oh. Yeah … funny.”
No actual response to me. When I mentioned it to my wife, she said, “So, basically you only give gifts in order to get a ‘thanks’? Or to make people like you?”
Now I’m sort of miffed that he never really acknowledged the gift to me, and my wife thinks I have ulterior motives for gift-giving. I feel like I’m being gaslighted here.
GENTLE READER: Your wife is using an argument popular with teenagers who want to get out of writing letters of thanks. Miss Manners did not expect to hear it from an adult.
Generosity and gratitude are paired virtues. You give presents to please people, and you want to know that you have succeeded in doing so. It’s called feedback.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: If you’re too fat to have a lap, where should you put your napkin while eating? I dislike laying it on my belly.
GENTLE READER: Please put it there anyway. Your dry cleaner will thank you.
Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website missmanners.com.
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