Miss Conduct

Is it rude to bring our own silverware to parties? We’re anti-plastic

I don’t want my family using paper plates and plastic utensils, even at other people’s parties. Plus, a popcorn-in-teeth dilemma.

Forks, Spoons and Knives on Blue Background
Adobe Stock

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Zero waste is a big part of my family’s lifestyle. How do I navigate events like a birthday party at a friend’s house where she is serving cake with plastic utensils and plates? My family brings our own reusable silverware and containers wherever we go — ice cream shops, grocery stores, picnics, etc. Hopefully, small efforts like this will amount to huge impact eventually. We do these things with joy, not with judgment. What’s your take? Is it rude to bring our own silverware/plates/etc., to friends’ houses? Many thanks.

M.C. / Boston

Yes, it’s rude. People who are hosting parties large and shambolic enough that they’ve resorted to paper and plastic are already juggling enough logistical details and individual quirks. It’s a bit much to ask them to track personal flatware choices. I know you think you wouldn’t be doing that — you’d keep an eye on all the utensils yourself! — but you would be. And the effect is minimal, since your hosts have already bought plates and forks in bulk.

I believe you when you say it’s joy, not judgment, but it won’t be perceived that way. For a guest to replace a host’s provisions and practices with her own is contrary to the dance of hospitality. Hosts strive to please guests, and guests strive to be pleased. You may have better taste in wine, a finer hand with bechamel, a livelier playlist, more environmentally sustainable eating utensils than your friends. You don’t bring them unless you’re asked. If you want to introduce your friends to waste-free living, bring them useful and attractive thank-you gifts — reusable bags and drinking straws, disposable but compostable paper products, and the like.

If what you mean by “navigate” is “explain to my kids” — if you got called out for hypocrisy by the young ’uns for eating cake with a plastic fork at the block party — you may want to soften the absolutism of zero waste as your family’s goal. Children should be taught to respect the environment. They should also learn how to balance competing values; how to reduce harm when a problem can’t be entirely fixed; how not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. (Such discussions go best with cake, however it is served.)

Eating popcorn at my American Legion post, I remove the pieces that are hard from the tip of my tongue with my finger and place them on a napkin. I never clean my teeth with my finger. Is this proper?

Anonymous / Boston


Yes. Inedible food morsels, unlike travelers in that limerick about Lynn, always go out the way they came in. Unless you’re eating your popcorn with chopsticks, use your fingers to dispose of the molar-cracking bits. (Eating popcorn with chopsticks is eccentric, but keeps fingers butter-free and kernels out of one’s mouth, as well as providing a conversation starter. You might want to try it some night when things aren’t lively at the post.) Olive pits and watermelon seeds, same deal. Gristle from a bit of steak that went in by fork goes out by fork.

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