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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Miss Manners 9/29

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

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My name is unusual and admittedly not pronounced the way it looks on paper to English speakers. Because of that, I usually answer to all sorts of permutations of my name when speaking with people with whom I do not have either a friendly or business relationship.

However, with people I expect to work with or see more frequently, I offer the correct pronunciation of my name the first few times they get it wrong. If they are really struggling with it, I even offer a mnemonic to help them to remember. My name consists of only two syllables, so it isn’t that tough.

For how long should I offer assistance to people who, for whatever reason, just can’t get it right?

GENTLE READER: At a certain point, – and there is no hard rule about when this happens – repetition of the mistake becomes studied disrespect.

Rather than give up, that is the time to identify a third party in a position of authority: a spouse, a boss, a mutual friend – or a human resources director.

What you are seeking from that person is not advice (which is easy for them to give) but some personal intervention, and it is therefore necessary to be direct.

Well, somewhat direct. “I am sure this is not meant as intentional disrespect,” Miss Manners would have you say when soliciting their intervention, “but because it has been going on for months, it feels that way to me.” This gives the offender a way out without letting the third party off so easily.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I think I was taught good table manners, including not talking with your mouth full, keeping your lips closed while chewing, not gulping food, etc. But I am wondering if I missed an important point.

I’ve lately noticed several women – my sister, my daughter-in-law and a couple of friends – who cover their mouths with their left hands while they are chewing. The food is conveyed to their mouths with the fork held in the right hand, and the fork and right hand rest on the plate until the next bite.

Did I miss something? Is it more polite or delicate to cover one’s mouth while chewing? I’ve occasionally copied this, and my husband chides me for having my hands on my face.

GENTLE READER: As you are on intimate terms with the people in question, you might ask them where they got this strange notion. Your sister cannot claim a different cultural background from you.

Miss Manners suspects this is a misguided attempt to ensure 100% compliance with the principle of not being seen chewing with one’s mouth open.

Etiquette has many rules to protect people from the unpleasant sights, smells and sounds of their nearest and dearest. She relies on everyone not only to apply them in good faith – but also to overlook tiny infractions by others. Making up new rules is not only confusing, it is endless, as there is always another percent of a percent to be found.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website