Seth Brown: Let's Ask Dr. Manners


Are you tired of constantly getting panicked phone calls from Michelle Obama asking about how best to sneeze in front of visiting Chinese dignitaries?

No? Well, then you're clearly not the world's foremost expert on manners. Whereas I, Dr. Manners, am a certified Doctor of Mannerology. If you would like to get your own D.M. degree, I can print you one for a small fee. But meanwhile, I'm the only one qualified to teach manners to the masses, so let's get to this week's letters:

Dear Dr. Manners:

Often at dinner I find that there is a plate with just one dessert item remaining, such as a single cookie or slice of pie. Is it permissible for me to take the last cookie? Or do good manners require me to offer it to everyone else first?

Chomping in Cheshire

Dear Chomping:

When Dr. Manners was young, he would offer desserts to his advantage, by getting other people to take the top cookies on the pile so he could grab the best one for himself. But one day when offering the cookie plate to his uncle, said uncle reached halfway down the pile, grabbed the best cookie, and smiled at Dr. Manners saying, "That one looked better than the rest of them, didn't it?"

Dessert is war. If there is one cookie left, dunk it in your milk and then "suddenly remember" to offer it to everyone else. This way manners are satisfied, but you get the cookie. The same rule applies with the last slice of pie. Drop it into your milk glass, offer it to others, and Dr. Manners guarantees nobody else will want it.

Dear Dr. Manners:

At what point in a relationship is it permissible to pass gas in front of a partner? I've been holding it in for six months now.

Embarrassed in Egremont

Dear Embarrassed:

In olden days, it was important to preserve mystique by pretending that women did not have bodily functions. We now live in more enlightened times, and realize that a pretense of biology is not worth gastrointestinal distress. However, it does spoil the romance to break wind during an intimate moment. This is why Dr. Manners recommends that you acquire a pet to scold whenever you need to let some gas escape.

This tradition dates back to ancient Greece where posterior gas escapes were blamed on the pet goat, known as "escape goat." While our pets have changed, the procedures have not; blame the dog for gas. Dr. Manners also likes to blame the cat for burping, and in a fit of pique, has been known to blame a pet fish for calling someone an incompetent noodlehead.

Dear Dr. Manners:

One of my friends told me that you can tell how fancy a restaurant is by how many forks you are supposed to use. Is this true?

Ponderous in Pittsfield

Dear Pip:

You probably dine at some pizza pit with no forks whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, your friend is smarter than you are, as more forks means more manners. A single fork at low-class establishments, salad and dinner forks at better venues, and 3 separate forks for salad, dinner, and dessert at higher-class restaurants. When Dr. Manners dines, he brings a bucket of silverware so he can use a separate fork for each bite. That's class.

An alternate system for ranking restaurant fanciness is what class of Kate you would bring there. A reasonably posh place is fine for dining with Kate Middleton. Only the finest restaurant would allow you to woo Kate Upton, whereas Kate Lowton works in a barn and is fine with a hamburger.

Seth Brown is an award-winning humor columnist, author of "From God To Verse", and hopes you didn't want that cookie. His website is


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