Miss Manners: Must we return to shaking hands?

Is there a polite way to avoid this? Why can’t a smile and simple “hello” work as a way of greeting?

They could, but we have developed so many other greeting gestures — kisses, fist bumps, hand slaps — that it will be a wonder if anyone remembers how to hold still and smile at the same time.

With any luck, people will be used to greeting without grabbing. But Miss Manners acknowledges that habits hang on, and dealing with an outstretched hand may be necessary, as refusing to shake it has always been considered an insult. People with severe arthritis or other good reasons to forgo the gesture have long had this problem.

Key is an apologetic expression: Bring the eyebrows together while making a pathetic little smile. You could also shrug, with your palms open (See? No weapons!) while saying “Sorry, I can’t shake” — and then hurrying on to say how glad you are to see that person with no time to explain why. “I’m afraid you might make me sick” is not a charming statement.

Dear Miss Manners: What’s the proper way to eat asparagus?

It depends on how much fun you want to have.

There are three equally proper methods:

If you just want to get your greens, use a fork, cutting the spears with the side of the fork before conveying the pieces to your mouth.

Or you could invest in asparagus holders, if you can find them. That they often have an asparagus spear etched on the side does not prevent diners from staring with stupefaction at seeing them in their place settings.

Free, and even more fun, Miss Manners believes, is picking up the asparagus by hand and nibbling from the top. What makes this enjoyable is the horror on the faces of those who are unaware that this method is traditional. (Note: This is not a privilege extended to other vegetables, so don’t try it.)

A note of caution: Watch out for dripping sauces. The serene smile you exhibit when knowing that you are correct despite all disbelief does not sit well above a stained shirt front.

Dear Miss Manners: We have a niece who addresses all of her mail as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, rather than Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. This greatly upsets us, and her mother-in-law. We feel it does not show any respect for her elders.

Are we wrong to feel this way? Has the proper way to address an envelope changed?

Oh, please. She is using honorifics — titles of respect, which are in rare use nowadays. So is writing letters at all, for that matter. Miss Manners begs you to explain this to those relatives before the young lady reasonably concludes that there is no use trying to please them.

2020, by Judith Martin