Published On: Mon, Feb 5th, 2024

Miss Manners: Is the dinner party going extinct?

Miss Manners: Is the dinner party going extinct?
Miss Manners: Is the dinner party going extinct?


Dear Miss Manners: I’m sorry, honey, but the dinner party is going extinct and has been for the last 50 years. Because who cares? And do you know why? Because people have conducted an honest cost-to-benefit analysis of dusty social conventions (most of them from other centuries) and found them wanting.

Honey, nobody is forcing you to attend dinner parties. By your own account, you are not likely even to be invited to one.

But you are missing out on the second-most pleasurable activity human beings can indulge in together. That would be convivial conversation: the exchange of ideas and experiences in an atmosphere of leisure, comfort and goodwill. Where nobody steps on your punchline by asking, “Are you still working on that?”

Miss Manners supposes that you define “dinner parties” as extravaganzas that rich people put on in order to display their silverware — thus ignoring thousands of years of human history, when the peaceful, communal breaking of bread has been a defining ritual of civilization. Religions, too, extol the virtue of the humblest sharing what little they have.

But you are right that the custom is becoming unfeasible for many reasons, not the least of which is the cost analysis you mention — the feeling that why, indeed, should people, rich or poor, share what they have? And if they want to, why should the beneficiaries be grateful, or even cooperative?

Another major factor is the decline, before that, of the nightly family dinner. That is where children had to learn such counterintuitive ideas as taking turns talking, listening to others with minds open to the possibility that others — even their own relatives — could be saying something worth hearing, and, if necessary, disagreeing without being disagreeable. It would be a useful skill in today’s world. So it is sad that many now believe that getting along with others, and even seeking their points of view, is out of fashion.

Dear Miss Manners: I am a female physician in a rural town. This is a retirement community, and I have a number of older male patients. Sometimes a man will stand when I enter the exam room, and it is such a delightful sign of respect. I am not certain of what my response should be. Since I am grateful for such treatment, I say “thank you” and proceed with the visit. Is there a better response?

Yes: “Good morning. Please sit down. How do you feel today?”

It is not clear to Miss Manners whether you believe this gesture is meant as a courtesy from a gentleman to a lady, in which case it is out of place in a professional setting, or is intended to show respect to you as a doctor, which is only slightly excessive.

No matter. In any case, it is obviously well meant. Acknowledging it with more than a polite smile would be making too much of an issue of it. Even in social life, this does not require thanks, and in your office, doing so would seem to accept it as obeisance.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.


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