Dear Miss Manners • I think it is so ugly to hold up your pinky while drinking tea. Do you consider it good or bad manners?
Gentle Reader • It has been both in its day, as Miss Manners recalls.
When tea was first imported to England from China, it was wildly expensive and kept locked up. It was drunk from Chinese cups, which are very thin and, for reasons best known to the designers, have no handles. Therefore, tea drinkers held the cups with as few fingers as possible to minimize scorching, especially of the pinky, which is apt to have fewer callouses than the others and thus be more sensitive.
Because it was a luxury of the rich, that gesture came to be associated with them, and not in a nice way.As we now have our own teacups with handles, the once-practical gesture is absurd, and only the association with wealth and, by implication, snobbery, persist.
• While driving with my son when he was in fifth or sixth grade, I spotted a bumper sticker on the car ahead of us at a stoplight. It had the “My child is an honor student” message with his school’s name on it. I said to him, in a not-too-subtle hint about his grades, “I’d like to have a bumper sticker like that to put on my car, too.”
I realized he was developing a wicked sense of humor when he replied, “I’ll see if I can steal you one.” It’s one of my favorite memories. — Oh, the Memories in LaGrange, N.C.Dear Memories
• Funny! And what has he become? A lawyer, a politician or a comedian?