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CORRECT WAY TO EAT FRUIT? DON’T TOUCH IT WITH HANDS

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Dear Miss Manners: While in England visiting one of the colleges in Oxford, I read that each applicant was required to pass a social examination (in addition to several academic examinations) that takes the form of sharing a meal with several of the school officials. It said that several women who were academically qualified were not accepted, specifically because they failed to eat a peach properly.

I was amazed that a peach could be the downfall of intelligent women, although perhaps I should not be too surprised since the apple has been given the blame for the downfall of all of mankind.I am interested in finding out the proper way to eat a peach, and whether it is defined more specifically than by the use of a knife and fork.

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners would like to be amazed with you at such a quaint bit of Old World snobbery. But she is aware that one of the great motivations for learning table manners in the New World is the job interview lunch, which is the same idea.

So she approves of the sensible way that you merely inquire how to pass this strange test, still used to determine if one is worth educating or hiring.

The trick is to eat the peach - or apple, apricot, pear or plum - without ever touching it with one's hands. Miss Manners realizes that the frank hand-to-mouth technique, fresh juice dribbling on the chin, is more fun, and it is perfectly proper with fruit plucked directly from orchard or lunch box. But not at the table.

There, one stabs it with the fruit fork, and cuts the side off with the fruit knife, away from any pits; then cuts that half into quarters, and eats each with the fork. If you're going for an advanced degree or CEO job, you might try peeling it in a nice long spiral; entry-level applicants are advised to pretend they love the peel.

But not all fruit peel can be eaten: The hairy old hide of a kiwi would make you ill all over the tablecloth, and that does not make a favorable impression.

Cutting away the peel of melon and pineapple sections is easy, and so is watermelon if you resist the temptation to spit the seeds across the table, and merely scrape them away with the knife. Cutting away the peel of a persimmon is difficult, even if one stands it upright, but possible. Cutting away the peel of an orange or tangerine without touching it - or daring it to squirt all over your interview suit - is well nigh impossible.

Strawberries are eaten with a strawberry fork, a tiny cute little thing with long tines that almost nobody provides, so they may be eaten hand-held by the stem, if there is one, or with a spoon, if there isn't. A spoon is also used for scooping everything out of a pomegranate half (the seeds are edible), or discarding the seeds and scooping out the rest of a papaya.

Fruit that has been previously subdued through stewing or being cut into tiny bits is eaten with the standard dessert fork and spoon. But that's almost too easy.

Dear Miss Manners: When dining out in a restaurant or as a dinner guest in someone's home, should some food always be left on the plate, or should everything on the plate be eaten?

Weight watching, dieting, food prejudices, religious restrictions and the like are not the problem. Proper etiquette is, and I would like a ruling.

Gentle Reader: Funny you should ask. The question of purposely leaving food on the plate happens to be intimately bound up with Miss Manners' own history.

It used to be required. Supposedly, one left enough to show that far from being shortchanged at mealtime, one had been amply supplied. The rule was stated as "Leave something for Miss Manners" (in England, "Leave something for Lady Manners").

Never mind the picture that suggests of poor Miss Manners, going around slopping up everybody's leftovers. Even if she tried, she couldn't stuff in them all, which meant that good food was going to be thrown away.

This is not an attractive idea, and Miss Manners didn't want to be responsible for it. But it was the grandmother of a fellow etiquetteer, Eleanor Roosevelt, who changed the rule.

"My grandmother came to believe," Mrs. Roosevelt wrote in "Eleanor Roosevelt's Book of Common Sense Etiquette," "that food was needed in the world and we who had an abundance should not waste it. Then I was cautioned never to take more on my plate than I could eat!"

Thus, the Clean Plate Club was formed. It may contribute its own problems - but at least they pertain only to the eater, and not to the rest of the world. And they can't be blamed on Miss Manners.

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I disagree as to whether it is improper for women to wear hats indoors, or rather to leave a hat on if eating lunch, etc.

I say it is proper for women to do so. Many French paintings depict women eating with large hats on.

Gentle Reader: You do happen to be right. Ladies properly keep their hats on indoors, everywhere except their own houses, during the daytime. Luncheons even traditionally required ladies to wear hats.

But Miss Manners is alarmed at the authority you cite. Please do not - repeat, not - take your standards of decorum from what you see going on in French paintings.