Question: Perhaps you can guide me. I'm an 81-year-old grandmother to six grandchildren. The parents of the boy are divorced; the mother is my oldest daughter. The father has terrible table manners and the son has followed his lead. Because he is in his 20s, he is out in public and doing some work in the art field. I feel it is important for him to have better table manners. At the last family gathering, I saw him licking the plate that had contained the cake and ice cream. If I were to say something to him, the mother would tear into me. I always thought that when the father got out in the business world, he would see that he should change his ways, but that has not happened. Any ideas?
- Laura in Pa.
Answer: It is no surprise that bad manners often are genetic. Our parents pass them on to us. You are completely in the right to be concerned and upset by this, but unfortunately, it is very hard to correct other adults, particularly in families. Maybe if you could get your grandson alone, you could gently say, "Manners are important, so when you go out to eat with people you might want to avoid licking a plate, because it might cost you business." However, this advice comes with a warning. He may complain to his parents or get huffy with you. The best scenario would be for him to be corrected by his peers. You can try a discussion with him, but you have to weigh if it's worth enduring a bad reaction. As I said, you are in the right here, but that doesn't mean the news will be well-received.
Q: Are gifts required/expected for an engagement party? Thanks for your input.
- Melinda in Pa.
A: Great question. Unless the invitation says "no gifts," I would take a gift, but not the price range of a wedding gift and not something from the registry. A few comments on engagement parties: Not everyone has them. Only those who will be invited to the wedding should be on the guest list. Gift rules may vary. That being said, it's best to bring something. I consulted two experts: My Emily Post book and my good friend Bernadette, born and raised in New Jersey (with loads of family in the Garden State), who has attended numerous engagement parties. Emily Post says it's acceptable to ask the hosts (often the parents or a good friend of the bride or groom) about gifts. Bernadette says she always takes a gift, but something for the couple like a nice bottle of wine or a gift card for a restaurant that they can enjoy together.
Q: Is there any way for me to gently remind my wife to not ride roughshod over other people's conversation? Recently, during a dinner with friends, she asked, "So how do you like your new neighbors?" But as soon as the person started to answer, my wife interrupted with a lengthy analysis of what she thought of them. Is there a polite way to suggest to my wife to listen, not just to use a question as a vehicle for her own opinions?
- Ian in Pa.
A: Lack of listening is epidemic and impolite. My advice is not to bring this subject up at the time or in front of others. I would simply say to your wife, on the way home from dinner, "Sometimes in your enthusiasm, you forget to let someone else answer." I would use the example of the evening and try not to bring up many times in the past. Your instincts are correct, but you will have to approach the subject cautiously. I, along with many others, have been guilty of jumping in when we should have listened. A reminder is helpful, but it needs to be given as good advice, not a stern lecture.
Last month I was asked if destination weddings are impolite. While I wouldn't say that, I did say that having a wedding far away in a location where one is not residing does mean that elderly relatives and some guests will not be able to attend. Here is what one of our readers had to say:
"I read your column in the Sunday Inquirer. I agree with your definition of a destination wedding. We were invited to one in Maui. The bride and groom lived in California, but most of the relatives and friends lived in the Northeast or Midwest. The bride's mother shared with me that a destination wedding is a good idea to limit the size of the wedding, since a lot of people won't make the trip. She said that fewer people attending would decrease the cost of the wedding for the bride, groom, and their parents. A lot of people who would have attended chose not to because of the expense of the flight and the hotels in Maui. So the bride and groom (and their parents) got the smaller (and less costly) wedding they wanted, but people who didn't attend still sent gifts (at least we did). Our children, on the other hand, wanted to share their happy day with as many friends and family as possible. I guess different strokes for different folks."
- H in Pa.
Last month I gave my annual holiday advice that it is best not to mix the festivities of the season with political opinions. Not everyone agreed. Here is what Kate had to say online:
"I am afraid I must disagree with your holiday manners alert telling people it's impolite to discuss where our country or community is headed at the dinner table. True, there are rude ways to discuss current events or politics, but the discussion itself is not only not rude, it's a desirable thing in a participatory democracy where so many citizens don't bother to participate. Naturally, there are rules and you could be helpful in discussing what they are - such as no ad hominem remarks or disparaging the speaker while also promoting the discussion of ideas and policies and elections. Discussing politics is one of the great rights of American citizens and should be encouraged, not banned. Let's agree to disagree. Political discourse is crucial to democracy, but doesn't need to be served with dinner."
Manners issues or questions? Email email@example.com.