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Social Grace 

Silent Bite

Wednesday, Jan 10 2001
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Dear Social Grace,
One subject I've never seen in an etiquette column: people who hit their teeth with their fork tines each time they take a bite. This is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, and it's getting so I can't stand to eat with certain friends. I've tried bringing up the subject away from the table, but the clickers don't seem to get it. I've found many people who share my feelings. Please help!

Via the Internet

Dear Madam or Sir,
This week we are going to discuss another simple request that polite society makes of diners: that eating not be any louder than it has to be.

I've heard the teeth-on-metal sound you speak of, and I agree that it's not nice. But really, your best course of action is to overlook it if you can, and I think "fingernails on a chalkboard" is overstating the problem just a bit. You tried an acceptable tactic for solving the problem -- bringing it up in a third-party manner away from the dinner table. But it had no effect, likely because the tooth clicker has no idea he's doing it.

"Where do we go from here?" I hear you ask. "Social Grace has told us over and over that it's impolite to correct others' table manners unless they are our children, spouses, or spouse equivalents!"

True, true. But before you forsake your friends' dinnertime companionship, there is a kind method for dealing with the problem. It requires tact, a genuine fondness for the person involved, and relatively good acting skills. It might go something like this:

The next time Cousin Louise scrapes her teeth along her fork, respond with a concerned look. Lean in and say (so that no one else can hear), "That sounded like it hurt, Louise. Are you OK?" If that remark is met with puzzlement, add, "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought I heard your fork hit your teeth -- and I know that can smart." You've at least alerted her to the behavior, and she may address it. If not, you can try to rise to a place of forgiveness.

Dear Social Grace,
My first question is in regards to thank you notes. How long can one wait before sending them before it is too late?

My next question is about stationery. I just purchased some nice, simple stationery that I intend to use to write short letters to friends and more formal acquaintances (such as officials at my alma mater). The problem is that my handwriting inevitably becomes messy and illegible at the end of a letter. I thought that I could rectify this problem by typing the letter or note, printing it out onto the stationery, and ending it with a personal signature. Is this acceptable or is it tacky? I think it is more important that the reader can actually read what I wrote rather than merely see my handwriting without being able to decipher what I said. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Writing High

Dear Writing Madam or Sir,
It is never too late to send a thank you note -- if you happen to remember, say, two years after the fact that you've forgotten to thank Aunt Viv for that lovely purple crocheted tea cozy, whip out your pretty stationery and get right on it. In the main, thank you notes should be sent out as soon as possible -- within a week or so, preferably. A thank you note takes about, oh, 15 minutes (maximum) to write, address, and stamp. No one is so busy that he doesn't have time to show gratitude to the good people who have done kind things for him.

Regarding your second question, I think that these days people are so happy to get a letter of any kind that they might overlook that it was typed or word-processed, and a typed business letter (such as one to your alumni association) is quite correct. There are, however, three types of letters that are traditionally never typed (unless reasons of ability prevent you): thank you letters, formal invitations (which are engraved or handwritten), and letters of condolence. It is important that your correspondents be able to read your letters; in your case, though, the fact that your handwriting becomes illegible at the end of letters suggests that you simply need to slow down and give as much thought to the way you write as to the words you choose.

Dear Social Grace,
How do you tell your new boss that he has a booger hanging out of his nose? Also, what do you do when your new boss starts chatting with you -- while standing next to you at the urinals in the men's room? Don't you think that's kind of rude? I lived through both of these situations in one day, and these sorts of things make me very uncomfortable.

Sincerely,
His Third Day on the Job

Dear Third-Day Sir,
Before we do anything else, we are going to wipe the word "booger" right out of our vocabulary, wrap it in tissue, and dispose of it in the nearest trash can. Now we can say to our boss -- out of anyone else's hearing -- "Mr. Kleenex, I think you need a tissue," or, "Ms. Handkerchief, it looks as though you have something on your nose." It is not impolite to help someone out in this way; it's all in the delivery (private) and the wording (tactful and adult).

Now let's tackle your second question. Conversing casually with someone while he uses the facilities presumes a certain intimacy. American society largely prefers restroom activities to be private, which is why I'll get right to the advice: If you become involved in a conversation that makes you uncomfortable -- because of subject matter, appropriateness, or location -- you can change the subject or excuse yourself from the conversation with a noncommittal, "Mhm. Yes. Please excuse me." If you want something stronger (and you're trapped where you are for the time being), you can try something such as, "I was hoping I'd get to discuss our branding strategy with you. Can I stop by your office in a few minutes to discuss it?" Either response should make it clear that you have not stopped in the restroom to make a social call.

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Social Grace

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