The Pun Also Rises: Ask Dr. Manners - Dinner Edition

Did you attend finishing school? No, you probably didn't even attend starting school, you unrefined ill-mannered person. That's why you need to ask advice of an expert like me, Dr. Manners, a certified Doctor of Mannerology, according to the certificate that I printed out for myself from the Internet.

Please quiet down! Don't ask me right now, because we have a whole mailbag of people who were polite and wrote in to ask Dr. Manners over the past few weeks. Heck, we could fill a whole column just with the questions about dinner. In fact, let's!

Dear Dr. Manners,

I know that generally speaking, it is good manners to put your napkin on your lap when you go out to eat. However, I feel ridiculous when I am wearing casual pants and using a fancy napkin to protect them, because the napkin is made of nicer fabric than my pants! Do you ever NOT put your napkin on your lap?

— Pants Problems in Pownal

Dear Pants,

Your question is quite astute. Obviously, if you are wearing a nice dress, a suit, or even khakis, then the traditional wisdom about putting a napkin on your lap still holds. However, if you are wearing sweatpants and the restaurant has fancy napkins, you don't need to put the napkin on your lap. In fact, last year Dr. Manners was at an upscale restaurant where the napkins and tablecloth were all ornate silk and lace, and he was wearing dirty jeans. Naturally, he did the appropriate thing and removed his pants to use in order to protect the tablecloth and napkins from getting stained. This is why Dr. Manners is no longer welcome at certain restaurants.


Dear Dr. Manners,

Our daughter is adopted, but she doesn't know that. We're taking her out to dinner for her Sweet 16. We were considering ordering a cake that says, "Happy 16th Birthday! You're Adopted!" Would this be appropriate?

— Parents in Pittsfield

Dear Parents,

A birthday cake isn't necessarily the best way to convey a big message. That's definitely what the French would call a "faux pas" (or literally, "Not the daddy"). You'd be much better off going to a Japanese restaurant and ordering some Oyakodon. This parent and child donburi will show your daughter that even if she was not originally your egg, you can all live together in harmony, briefly, before being devoured by hungry giants.


Dear Dr. Manners,

Every time I sit down to dinner with my family, we end up getting into a big political argument. I don't bring up politics to begin with, but someone will inevitably say something mean or denigrate certain groups of people, and I feel like I have to respond.

— Angry in Adams

Dear Angry,

They say that the personal is political, but sometimes the political should be personal. There's a reason politics is one of the topics you're not supposed to discuss over dinner. If someone else brings it up, deflect. Dr. Manners finds it helpful to say something like, "I know we'll disagree on this, so let's just change the topic to something more pleasant, so I don't have to point out that any system which lacks compassion for the less fortunate is morally bankrupt."


Dear Dr. Manners,

If a girl asks a guy out for dinner, who pays?

— Checking in Cheshire

Dear Checking,

In these modern times, everyone has their own ideas about who should pay for dinner. The solution is quite simple: You should each pay for your own food and then buy dinner for Dr. Manners.

Dr. Manners holds a doctorate of mannerology and advises many people around the world. Seth Brown is an unrefined writer whose website is


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