Dear Miss Manners: When a good friend's wife had a miscarriage, I thought about sending flowers and then a fruit basket. Later I wondered if that was appropriate.

If this happened to me and someone sent me flowers or a fruit basket, I think I would get more depressed and feel as if I was at a funeral. I considered a card, and then I thought this could be similar to a sympathy card and be even more depressing.In a case like this, how would you show someone that you are very sorry for what has happened and express your concern, besides just saying you are sorry?

Gentle Reader: What did you have in mind - a clown with balloons?

Letters of sympathy, and gestures such as sending flowers or food, are prescribed by etiquette exactly so you do not have to do all that dangerous thinking. Miss Manners knows you mean well, but apparently it is extremely difficult for others to guess the state of mind of people involved in tragedy, and the results can be emotionally disastrous.

Here you are, assuming that it would be your signs of sympathy that would depress your friends and suggest to them that the occasion was very like a funeral.

No - what depresses them is the fact that they lost their baby, which is, indeed, comparable to the bereavement associated with a funeral. The idea that they may have immediately gotten over this, and should therefore not be reminded that they suffered a loss, is so wrong as to be ghastly.

All you can do, as a friend, is to offer the comfort of showing that you care, through the conventional means of saying so, outright and through the standard symbolism of sending flowers. Do not try to outthink the traditions associated with etiquette in order to be original - sympathy is what is wanted, not creativity.

Failing to do this will not allow them to forget, but it will rather suggest to them that others are indifferent to their feelings.

Dear Miss Manners: My gentleman friend and I both enjoy our food when dining in restaurants, but he, being much bigger than I am, enjoys more food.

The result is that I am usually finished with my filet mignon and baked potato when he is still only halfway done with his king's cut prime rib (to be followed by turtle pie or some other elaborate dessert).

I already eat as slowly as I can without looking like an affected ninnyhammer, so my alternatives seem to be to stare at him as he eats, or to eat more food myself, though I am already full.

Can you suggest some polite activity in which I can engage myself while waiting for my dinner partner to catch up?

Gentle Reader: Why are you dining with this gentleman, if you have nothing to say to him?

And why is anyone who would use such a wonderful word as "ninnyhammer" not seizing every opportunity to babble (uninterrupted, Miss Manners notes, as the gentleman's mouth would be firmly sealed around his portion of turtle pie)?

Conversation is, in fact, the chief reason that polite people dine in company, nourishment running only a distant, although perhaps intensely satisfying, second.

Dear Miss Manners: I have been trying to teach my two young grandsons a few of the graces I was taught at the dinner table, encouraging them to use the right knife, fork, etc., in the correct order, and to lay the napkin on the chair if one is coming back to the table, as in buffet dining, or to leave it on the table if one is not.

They insist that I am making up rules as I go along and that these are not really etiquette.

Gentle Reader: Oh, they do, do they? Miss Manners suggests that you challenge them to put down exactly what they believe the rules of etiquette to be. You will either conclude the argument or end up with a nice little rule book that you can use to throw in their faces when they violate its tenets.

But as "Never insinuate that your grandparents don't know what they are talking about" is a non-negotiable rule, they are going to have a hard time of it.

Judith Martin's "Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children" (Atheneum) is available for etiquette emergency consultation.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.