Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 23 August 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

This week, Mary is dealing exclusively with problems relating to table manners.

Q. When eating, my 15-year-old daughter knocks her teeth with her fork or spoon. She is very amenable to being corrected, but we are about to join a large house-party where we will all be eating en famille, and I can't nag her in public. I can't stand the noise, so I imagine that none of the other adults will be able to stand it either. What do you suggest, Mary?

C.H., London SW18

A. Choose an anodyne expression such as 'Have you got enough salt?' and collude with your daughter that when she hears this question it is a coded message for 'stop knocking your teeth'.

Q. Possibly through many visits to the USA, but more likely through laziness, I find myself, in informal dining situations, holding and using my fork 'not necessarily concave upwards' in my right hand. My wife informs me that this is totally unacceptable at any time, in any place. Is this really so?

Name and address withheld

A. The overhand fork position to which you refer is not even practised in the 'flyover states' of the American interior (where food is vertically impaled with the left hand and sawn up with the right into Kennomeat-style chunks). Your name and address were not withheld from me and I can confide to readers that you hail from a sophisticated background and, indeed, that you enjoy professorial rank. It is therefore clear that your motive in holding your fork incorrectly is purely to annoy your wife. You should grow up, conform to civilised standards and try to set an example to those youths who may be looking to you for guidance.

Q. I am a newly appointed QC and wish to retain my dignity in public. I find this difficult if presented with one of those fashionable salads into which a number of large, long lettuce leaves and unwieldy herbs have been incorporated. Given that it is often impossible to cut through the spaghetti junction of stalks, what is the best way of reducing one's forkload to a manageable size?

Name withheld, London W6

A. You should load the problem herbs on to a leaf and use the edge of your fork (not a knife) to cut the leaf down to a feasible size. Then, trapping the herbs within it, fold said leaf into an elegantly sized parcel. You can raise such parcels to the mouth and insert without the risk of residual tendrils being allowed to escape in the manner of a panda eating bamboo shoots or, indeed, a human trying to eat a spider.

Q. What puddings are currently fashionable?

T.S., Polzeath, Cornwall

A. One easy-to-assemble pudding which has been popular in house-parties this summer is quality vanilla ice-cream thawed sufficiently to permit the introduction of some Jordan's Original Crunch maple and pecan toasted oat-cluster cereal. The proportions are roughly a fistful of Crunch per 500ml ice-cream. The mixture is then refrozen and served when needed. The textural result is superior to brown-bread ice-cream.