Dear Miss Manners: Can you share with us the origins of the guidance never to discuss religion and politics at social gatherings? Or the numerous variations of that rule? I’m a wonderful Internet sleuth, but this one eludes me.

And what is your guidance on the topic, especially given the precarious state of our democracy and the rampant spread of mis- and disinformation?

Have you tried, lately, talking with someone with whom you disagree?

Had this not been an old rule, designed to free social life from cantankerous strife, Miss Manners would have had to invent it.

Mind you, she would happily abandon the rule if she could hope to welcome an exchange of ideas. That would be a boon to democracy, as well as a much-needed stimulus to good conversation.

But people no longer exchange ideas; they exchange insults. This is not new, just particularly bad right now. The rule surely dates to the first time someone countered a statement with, “Then you must be an idiot” instead of, “Why do you think that?”

Dear Miss Manners: Eating with one’s hands is not bad manners in many cultures. As a matter of fact, there is an elaborate code of manners on how to eat with one’s hands: How much of the fingers can be dipped into the rice or curry? Can the fingers be licked or not? What is the best way to get delicious bites out of the intricate crevices of the lamb shoulder bones without looking like a slob?

If good manners forbid eating with one’s hands, how, pray, do we use the phrase “finger-licking good”?

Some of us do not.

But you are mistaken in believing that etiquette forbids eating with the hands. There are circumstances in which this is permitted: Fried chicken may be correctly eaten from the hands at picnics, but not at the formal dinner table.

But there are plenty of foods that can be correctly eaten with the hands under any circumstances, including whole artichokes, bread, grapes, sandwiches, nuts, corn on the cob, olives, pickles, celery, anything on crackers, and (really) asparagus. Oh, yes, and frogs’ legs — although you may attack them with a knife and fork if you like.

As for the propriety of licking one’s fingers, Miss Manners can only pity you if you believe that advertisements are a model of decent behavior.

Dear Miss Manners: At some point in my life, I came under the impression that asking questions of idle curiosity outside of a “getting to know you” setting is rude.

So when my next-door neighbor is in his yard and I’m getting in my car, and he asks me where I’m off to, is he being nosy? Or am I being overly critical (in my mind only, of course, because I will always politely answer)? Is idle curiosity rude, or only in certain contexts or with certain queries?

Yes, it is rude — but, as you recognize, it is not worth antagonizing a neighbor. And it is unnecessary, as there is no need to answer such questions. You could have said, “Oh, I’ll be back in an hour or so,” and driven away.

But Miss Manners asks you to consider the possibility that the gentleman had no real interest in whether you were going to the grocery store or the dentist, but only wanted to call out something to be friendly, and only the obvious came to mind.

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.

2021, by Judith Martin

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