Miss Manners takes on invitations, alligators

Two quick questions from Miss Manners’ Sunday column

The forehead slapper:

Dear Miss Manners: I minored in French in college and still remember some of it. I live in California and interact only with strict Anglophones. Sometimes when they e-mail me invitations, they say “please RSVP.”

Is it polite to e-mail them back and say, “FYI, please RSVP means please respond please. RSVP is French.”

Most of them have no idea what RSVP stands for, exactly what it means, nor that is in French.

Well….actually.  “RSVP please” means “respond please please,” right?  And “RSVP” isn’t really French in and of itself, unless you pronounce it “Aihrressvoupeh.”  It stands for a French phrase.  I mean, if we’re going to be pedantic about it. Congrats on the French minor, though.

And, P.S. (that stands for post script, it’s English), I’d bet a million dollars you didn’t learn what RSVP stands for from a college-level French class.  You learned it from your (strictly Anglophone?) mother when you were in third grade, saw it on your birthday invitation, and asked what it meant.

Dude, you’re being invited somewhere.  Respond appropriately, s’il vous plait, or it might not happen again.

As an aside…”I live in California and interact only with strict Anglophones”?  Seriously?  How do you manage that?  My background is suburbia -> Central Illinois -> Southeast Michigan and I’ve never interacted only with strict Anglophones.  In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any place to live where this is the case.  She doesn’t know a single other person who has studied a second language? Not to mention all the folks who are truly multi-lingual.  Sounds like she’s due to broaden her social circle, or maybe just open her eyes.

And now for something completely different:

the knee slapper:

Dear Miss Manners: A restaurant where we dine folds the napkins in such a way that they can be used as an alligator hand puppet. Most tables are set for four, and there are only three of us including my daughter, so after properly placing our napkins in our laps after we sit down, there is still an extra napkin begging to be used as a puppet.

Since there is no rule (that I know of) specifically forbidding the use of spare napkins as alligator puppets, and since we have correctly followed all napkin rules by placing our designated napkins in our laps, I believe that using spare napkins for entertainment purposes is fine. Although my wife cannot cite a specific offense, she still thinks we shouldn’t do it just because it is unusual and out of the ordinary.

Can you please share your opinion on this matter?

Le sigh.  I feel for this guy’s wife a bit, because he’s clearly being difficult.  Of course there’s no rule “specifically forbidding the use of spare napkins as alligator puppets.”  There are, however, rules about where one’s hands should be when eating and not eating.  There are also general rules about not playing at the dinner table.  I suspect it’s a general sense of decorum and embarrassment in a public place, not an aversion to all things “out of the ordinary,” that’s led his wife to object.

Nevertheless…this reminds me so vividly of the kind of restaurant stunts my dad used to play (salt shaker going through the table, the art of using the spoon as a catapult, shooting a mint across the room into a woman’s hair, and the infamous fold-your-napkin-into-a-rotisserie-chicken trick) that I have to give them a pass.

Miss Manners does likewise:

Gentle Reader: It is that the restaurant has created what Miss Manners believes is legally known as an attractive nuisance, and, not having cleared the unused place setting, could not expect you to resist the puppet’s begging to be used. However, if the puppet starts eating from people’s plates, she will have considered that you went too far.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if he and his wife had a bet riding on this–if they’d agreed to both abide by whatever Miss Manners decreed.  She’s now doomed this harried mother to a lifetime of napkin alligator puppets.

Hm.  Life is short.  Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

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3 responses to “Miss Manners takes on invitations, alligators

  1. You say “And, P.S. (that stands for post script, it’s English)” and I’ve got to disagree.

    Although its use in English letters makes it easy to confuse with the English word ‘Postscript’ (N.B.: no space), it comes from use in Latin texts as ‘Post Scriptum’ that have been carried over into letters in a variety of languages including English. There is of course, PPS (post-post-scriptum) and PSS(post-sub-scriptum) as well. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postscript

    (ok, pedantic mode off now…)

    Oh, and for the record I think that, like any fun or joking involving place settings, they are perfectly fine especially if children are present, if they do not last too long and don’t overly discomfort fellow diners.

  2. If I’m going to attempt to belittle a pedantic Francophone by being pendantic myself, I deserve the same when I’m wrong!

    Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  3. My favorite napkin party trick:

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