Miss Conduct

Table manners emergency! Fork or spoon when eating corn?

Miss Conduct’s advice might just save a marriage. Plus, dealing with a chronically late friend.

(Lucy Truma)

When eating corn (not on the cob), should one use a fork? My husband thinks a spoon is acceptable. I was raised to use a fork.

G.A. / Augusta, Georgia

The important thing to realize is that yours is not the first marriage to experience conflict, and even pain, because of corn.

Even before technology, otherwise peaceful marriages could be endangered by the scourge of corn, when roasters married boilers or a young woman brought up to nibble from the cob in neat rows discovered with horror that she had married one of the dread “random gougers.” In the 21st century, with so many devices — forks! spoons! — capable of delivering corn to our very faces at any hour of the day or night, it is no wonder husbands and wives can find themselves wondering if corn has turned their marriage into an empty husk. Is there a way out of the maze of corn?

There is. Cob-free corn kernels are properly eaten with a fork. A spoon is acceptable only if the diner has coordination problems — as folks of all ages do, for various reasons — and can’t manage a fork without making a mess. Corn spooning is an accommodation, not an alternative.


I hope you’re not sorry you asked.

I had dinner plans with a friend who texted shortly before I arrived at the restaurant to say she was running late. Later, I texted and tried to call — nothing. The last time we had plans, I’d waited a long time for her. This time, after more than an hour, I left. When I got home, I had a text from her saying she had just arrived and she was sorry. I didn’t respond, and I’ve never heard from her again. I always equated punctuality with how much a person values a companion’s time and feelings. Now I wonder whether she was offended because I didn’t wait indefinitely. What’s with people being so late and not thinking anything of it?


Anonymous / Boston

You were within your rights to leave, and a good bit sooner than you did, for that matter, but you should have texted your friend to let her know you were leaving. You certainly should have responded to her text from the restaurant. That’s your bad and you should apologize for it, regardless if she was in the wrong first. Rudeness doesn’t excuse rudeness.

I don’t like it when people are late, either, but it’s increasingly becoming a social norm, and you can make yourself miserable about it or not. You are free to make lateness a deal breaker in friendships — it sounds as if it already has been in this one. Or you can change your own thinking and behavior. Your equation is, flatly, wrong. Some corporate game-playing types may use lateness as a dominance move, but for most normal people, chronic lateness reflects their relationship with time or distance or their own prefrontal cortex, not with you. (I had a good friend whose birth mother showed up late for their first meeting — and my friend was overjoyed, because she finally realized where she’d gotten the trait from.)

Stop taking it personally. Show up a little bit late yourself — about half as late as you think the other person will be — and bring a book. Verily, who wouldn’t want 20 minutes of blessed alone time to sip a glass of wine and catch up on the latest New Yorker undisturbed? Think of it as a little bonus solo vacation and you might even start to enjoy it.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.