Q. I am a 60+ professional. I am often surprised in conversations with younger colleagues as to the inappropriate use of “me” and “I,” as for example, “me and he went to the store” or “me and John are leaving now.”
Also, at dining events, I am surprised by the lack of use of napkins on laps. I usually ask for a second napkin so I can keep one on my lap and use one by hand to wipe my mouth. Many people do not seem to use a napkin on their lap and leave it on the table. I asked my twentysomething son and he said that people don’t like to put it on their laps because if they need it, it gets dirty and may result in putting a dirty napkin back on one’s lap. That is why I request a second napkin. Why don’t restaurants give a second napkin automatically?
A. The incorrect use of “me” and “I” is actually important because it reflects on a person’s image. When you misuse grammar, especially basic rules such as saying “I” when you should say “me,” you risk appearing uneducated. People whose opinion matters — a boss, client, or prospect — may think: “If you make mistakes on things as basic as spelling or grammar, will you be mistake prone in any critical work?”
“I” is used as a subject whereas “me” is used as an object. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t say “me went to the store,” you would say “I went to the store.” The easiest way to know is to drop your companion from the sentence. It becomes obvious that “(John and) I went to the store” is correct. Just as, or perhaps even more frequently, “I” is misused as the object of a sentence as in, “Sam took John and I to dinner.” Leaving John out of it, “Sam took me to dinner” so “Sam took John and me to dinner” is correct.
You can try quietly correcting a person on the spot: “I think you mean John and I.” Or, if the mistake is repetitive, you can try talking to the person privately about it. But once you have made these attempts, let it be.
Regarding the napkin, I’ve never been offered a second napkin nor thought to ask for one. I suspect restaurants would prefer not to as it would increase costs. After using a napkin to wipe your mouth, fold the offending part in before placing it back on your lap or if it’s really egregious, ask for a new one.
E-mail questions about business etiquette to firstname.lastname@example.org.