Dear Mary

Dear Mary: Is it really forbidden to eat with a fork’s tines facing upwards?

29 September 2018

9:00 AM

29 September 2018

9:00 AM

Q. My husband and I have been invited to the birthday party of a distinguished public figure with whom we have had a discreet, or, at least unboasted of, relationship over many years. The invitation is displayed on the dresser in our kitchen. Recently a woman visitor to our house saw the invitation and cried: ‘Wow! How did you two get invited to that?’

Mary, I felt her astonishment was not only maladroit but also passive aggressive. How should I have replied to her veiled insult?

— Name and address withheld

A. You might have responded: ‘Oh dear. I’m sorry. Have you not been invited? The only reason we’ve been is they’re trying to include lots of unglamorous worthies as an anti-elitist thing. So many people have been asked, I thought you might have made the cut.’


Q. My husband is pained when I turn my fork over. He was brought up by a very strict nanny and says that a fork should only ever be used with the tines pointing downwards. He says it’s just too bad if this means one has to leave lots of tasty scraps uneaten on the plate because one should never use the fork as a ‘shovel’. Can you rule? — S.H.H., East Tytherton, Wilts

A. Your husband is correct. You must push these residues on to the tines-pointing-downwards fork, using your knife. You can recruit other more solid foodstuffs, for example mashed potato, to absorb peas and gravy. However, when eating pasta you may hold your fork in your right hand with the tines upwards.

Why does it matter? The point of eating together is to celebrate good fortune in having the food in the first place and being in congenial company. If one person has been indoctrinated that it is wrong to do certain things with knives and forks, then you should not make them anxious during the celebration by reopening that psychic wound. Just go along with his or her prejudices — no matter how irrational you think they are.

Q. My son has landed a fairly big part in a West End play. It’s his first break. Should I mention this to his godparents and our best friends or not? The tickets are expensive so I can’t afford to treat everyone but nor would I want people to feel they had to go to the effort and expense of attending because it would look disloyal if they didn’t. It would seem equally weird if I keep quiet about it. What should I do?

— Name and address withheld

A. Sound them out by saying, for example: ‘Do you have any interest in going to…?’, then name the play and some of the other actors, not mentioning your son. If they reply, ‘No, I can’t stand the theatre and there’s nowhere to park and we can’t afford it’ then you will know not to take things further. If later they accuse you of not having told them, you can reasonably reply that, given their feelings about the theatre, you didn’t want to ambush them.

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