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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Miss Manners 2/17

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I come from a large, itinerant family, consisting of my parents and eight siblings. We moved frequently as I was growing up, our possessions packed up and shipped over a dozen times, with some things arriving damaged or going missing in the process.

Money was never overly abundant, and though my mother loved to set a nice dinner table for us all, she quickly gave up on having any matching tableware. Instead, she used whatever was available, interesting and affordable. As time went on, no two pieces ever matched, and I came to think of this as eclectic and charming.

Now that I’m grown, I’ve continued my mother’s custom of mixing things up, as it brings back fond memories of my family and my youth. My tableware is all different designs and makes, and I even use jelly jars as juice glasses in my kitchen.

The problem is that when guests come for dinner, many seem perplexed with my non-matching table items, and will tell me where I can purchase matching sets cheaply. I politely tell them that things are exactly as I want them to be, and that money is not the issue. Rarely does it sink in.

A friend sent me a full matching set of tableware, thinking that she was doing me a favor. If I return it, it will hurt her feelings, yet if I use it, my finely constructed collection of mismatched items will completely be disrupted. What should I do to make her happy, yet continue using the items that I’m so fond of?

GENTLE READER: Your friends must be unaware of a put-down once used by snobs: “the sort of people who buy their silver.” Mixed patterns are a sign of having inherited it instead.

Never mind that your tableware was bought and that it may not be silver; Miss Manners was just reaching for a way to support you against people who have no business criticizing your hospitality. Thank that friend and use the matching set for picnics, when it won’t matter.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband has a close friend, Burt, whom he has known since high school and who is part of our social circle. Last year, we learned that Burt’s mother had died, and my husband called him with condolences. A week or so later, we saw him at a brunch (this was pre-pandemic). I told him that I had known his mother from church, and gave him my sympathy.

In the course of our conversation, I asked how old she had been. He snapped at me, saying something like, “I don’t see how that’s relevant.”

I was embarrassed and wondered if I had made a faux pas or been insensitive. However, the next day, the obituary was in the newspaper, and her age was plainly stated immediately after her name.

Was I wrong or rude to ask Burt his late mother’s age? I was not intending to pry. In my experience, that’s a common question when someone dies.

GENTLE READER: But not when the lady is alive. Miss Manners deplores the notion that it is shameful to age, but recognizes that unfortunately, many people have internalized it.

Burt could still have been reacting to what his mother would have said if he told her age. Instead of snapping, he could have just told you, “She wouldn’t want me to tell.”

Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website

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