Life Advice



Rules About Difficult Topics Exist For A Reason

Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin on

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can you share with us the origins of the guidance never to discuss religion and politics at social gatherings? Or the numerous variations of that rule? I'm a wonderful internet sleuth, but this one eludes me.

And what is your guidance on the topic, especially given the precarious state of our democracy and the rampant spread of mis- and disinformation?

GENTLE READER: Have you tried, lately, talking with someone with whom you disagree?

Had this not been an old rule, designed to free social life from cantankerous strife, Miss Manners would have had to invent it.

Mind you, she would happily abandon the rule if she could hope to welcome an exchange of ideas. That would be a boon to democracy, as well as a much-needed stimulus to good conversation.

But people no longer exchange ideas; they exchange insults. This is not new, just particularly bad right now. The rule surely dates to the first time someone countered a statement with, Then you must be an idiot instead of, Why do you think that?


DEAR MISS MANNERS: Eating with one's hands is not bad manners in many cultures. As a matter of fact, there is an elaborate code of manners on how to eat with one's hands: How much of the fingers can be dipped into the rice or curry? Can the fingers be licked or not? What is the best way to get delicious bites out of the intricate crevices of the lamb shoulder bones without looking like a slob?

If good manners forbid eating with one's hands, how, pray, do we use the phrase finger-licking good?

GENTLE READER: Some of us do not.

But you are mistaken in believing that etiquette forbids eating with the hands. There are circumstances in which this is permitted: Fried chicken may be correctly eaten from the hands at picnics, but not at the formal dinner table.


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