Questions of Culinary Presentation, Vol. 4, Issue 17

Dear Etiquetteer: I recently hosted a meeting of my book group and provided refreshments that included Brie and crackers. I was astounded when one guest, the friend of a friend of one of our long-time members, used a cracker to slice/scoop up the soft Brie cheese instead of using the knife provided. Her fingers were covered with Brie after she repeated this act a few times and none of the other guests wanted to eat the cheese she had contaminated. I didn't know what to do. At the end of the evening I politely offered her the remaining Brie because she had enjoyed eating it all evening. She was delighted. Also, I had provided each guest with a small plate and napkin. This same guest chose not to use them and popped each Brie-covered cracker directly into her mouth. By the end of the evening her dark slacks were covered with white smears of Brie where she had wiped her hands and she left crumbs all over.I'd appreciate your advice on how I could have handled this situation more pro-actively. This guests' behavior was truly disgusting and distracting. In a few months I'll be asked to host the book group again. HELP! Dear Booked: Oh, beware the friends of friends! Take a tip from Rudyard Kipling, who told the tale in his story 'A Friend's Friend' of how a friend's acquaintance embarrassed himself (and everyone else) with a spectacular display of public drunkenness at a society ball. The Gentlemen had their revenge, however, by decorating his passed-out form with whipped cream, ham-frills, and other Victorian hors d'oeuvres before rolling him up into a carpet and throwing him onto a freight train. Don't you just love the English? They always know how to put one in one's place . . .Brie Woman already seems adept at decorating herself with food, more's the pity, so that approach is out. Really, Etiquetteer doesn't know why you bother; this sort of person is not the sort who understands what Polite Society means, and therefore should not be included. But, on to more practical solutions. Etiquetteer admires the way you finessed disposing of the pillaged Brie. It practically defines 'killing with kindness.' Next time your'e forced to entertain this person, you have Etiquetteer's full permission to say, 'Oh, here's the cheese knife, dear' when you see her aiming a cracker at the cheese; you may even offer to slice it for her. And when she begins wiping her hands on her slacks (ugh! just the thought makes Etiquetteer ill), go right ahead and hand her a napkin saying, 'Oh, don't muss your slacks! Here's a napkin, dear.' Her rejection of your care and attention will only redound on her. As a last resort, you might prepare individual plates of refreshments for each guest, so that everyone has their own delicate morsels to enjoy. It's more work, of course, but at least everyone would feel that their refreshments were safe from Brie Woman's cooties.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I work in a large office and hand out only wrapped candy. Why? Because there are coworkers who will run their hands through unwrapped candy, who will cough or sneeze on it ? in other words, they cannot help themselves from marking it with their germs. It seems almost unconscious.

The challenge is when someone else puts out unwrapped food. How do I politely suggest that it is a bad idea? Of course I either decide that my immune system is up to fighting off the germs or not eat them.

Dear Wrapped:

Etiquetteer applauds your thoughtfulness in providing wrapped treats for your colleagues and clients. And while acknowledging the purity of your movites, Etiquetteer really must advise that criticizing your colleagues is not going to make a positive impression. Continue to decline politely anything offered that you don't care to eat for whatever reason.

Dear Etiquetteer: When I entertain I sometimes want to keep the leftovers for future lunches. How do I handle the guest who either wants additional helpings at the time of the meal or to take some home with her? Last time one of the other guests offered her own leftovers to a hungry guest and suggested that she get seconds of the less expensive side dishes, which saved the day. Dear Pecked Hostess: Good heavens! Are you entertaining friends, family, or a plague of locusts?Asking for a doggie bag in a private home is just beyond the pale, if you ask Etiquetteer. Confronted with the request, however, Etiquetteer thinks it Perfectly Proper to decline with an apology that you need to make the pot roast, lobster bisque, macaroni, or whatever last to next Tuesday. You eliminate the problem altogether when you bring in prepared plates from the kitchen; this way your guests don't see that there's anything left over.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at!

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