Dear Miss Manners: When dining at the home of a friend, is it rude to ask to warm up your dinner briefly in the microwave? I like food to be hotter than most people do, and I do this myself at home, but am reluctant to inflict this preference on a hostess, even under very informal circumstances.
Gentle Reader: One of the hardships of social life is that people who eat out at one another's houses don't always get exactly what they want to eat, exactly the way they want to eat it.The trade-off is supposed to be that they get to be with their dear friends, who have tried to please them, even if they haven't succeeded. Miss Manners is dismayed that an increasing number of people don't seem to think that this is worth it.
Mind you, etiquette has never required that people go ahead and eat what they hate, are allergic to, have religious or moral objections to, or are too full to stuff down. They need only say, "No, thank you," as often as necessary.
But they cannot make special orders, and they cannot go into the kitchen to make adjustments. So no, you cannot zap your food when you dine out. Your reluctance was your own good sense of manners kicking in.
Etiquette has gone quite far enough in requiring hosts to provide salt and pepper so that guests may season the food to their own taste. Some of them turn unreasonably morose when they see the salt and pepper used, interpreting it as a reflection on their cooking. Miss Manners appreciates your help in not encouraging such tendencies. You really don't want your hosts running around, grabbing everybody's filled plate back saying, "Is yours cold, too?"
Dear Miss Manners: About eight months ago, my husband's sister came to live with us. We paid her airfare; we don't ask her for rent; we furnished a room for her and did everything to make her feel at home.
On the surface, the people in my husband's family are the most hospitable and nicest on earth. But I've discovered they can't be trusted.
About three months ago, while I was cleaning, I discovered a letter she had written to her sister - I couldn't believe it. It said she couldn't stand me, and she couldn't wait for her brother to divorce me, and that soon he would, and then they could move to a different place. It also contained a bunch of other lies.
My husband and I have never had problems, and divorce isn't even an issue.
I talked to my husband about it, and he was as shocked as I was. What should we do to handle this situation tactfully?
Gentle Reader: On the surface, you sound wonderfully hospitable and tactful yourself. But then there is that small matter of reading someone else's mail. Miss Manners does not buy into the idea that cleaning up forces fastidious housekeepers into inadvertently reading whatever private papers may have been left visible.
Is it possible that you have done this sort of thing before? And that your sister-in-law, who otherwise thinks you are perfect, has set a trap?
Denying her allegations will only confirm allegations she hasn't made. But in any case, it is obviously time for this arrangement to end. The tactful way to suggest this is, "We've loved having you here, but we understand that you'll want to make your own living arrangements now. Of course you want your privacy - for that matter, so do we, much as we love you."
Dear Miss Manners: A friend and I gave a set of silver serving pieces as a wedding present. We both received prompt notes thanking us for a crystal vase. Should we inform the wedding couple of the mistake, or accept the thanks as is?
Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is so full of good will toward couples who write prompt thank you letters that she is busily calculating what would be less trouble for them.
She presumes that this is your attitude, as well. Gratitude is still gratitude, even if it contains an error.
They wouldn't have to do anything at all if the crystal vase donor let it pass, too, because they would never know. But suppose these people do write about the mix-up? Then they would have to write each of you back, apologizing and re-thanking - two extra letters. Same if you write.
All right, let's take the chance. Why don't you ignore the mix-up, and, if they find out about it, laugh heartily at yourself for having noticed their delight without having noticed its cause.
The next time you dine with them, you can always say you're so glad they're enjoying the serving pieces, and look puzzled if they attempt to rethank you for the crystal vase.
Judith Martin is author of "Miss Manners' Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium" (Pharos Books).