DEAR HARRIETTE: At dinner with my children recently, I noticed them treating the waitstaff poorly. They would roll their eyes, not say thank you and barely acknowledge the servers. I was mortified and asked where they learned this. They all shrugged. A conversation is necessary, but I am not sure whether to start with my ex-husband -- who is notorious for being a menace to any staff -- or with my children. Should I start at the root of the problem, or just focus on my children's behavior? -- We Say Thank You, Shreveport, Louisiana
DEAR WE SAY THANK YOU: Do not bring your ex-husband into a conversation with your children where you are reprimanding them about their behavior. No good will come of that. Instead, be direct with your children, and let them know that you have observed unacceptable behavior from them and you want to talk about it. Give specific examples from your most recent restaurant experience with them where you can point out clearly how they were rude, dismissive and disrespectful. Be clear enough that they cannot wriggle out of it by saying they didn't do it. Speak about what you witnessed firsthand and how awkward it was for you to see.
Tell them that this is not the way you reared them, and they must stop. Ask them to put themselves in the waiters' shoes for a moment. Imagine how bad they would feel if someone treated them in that same way. Suggest that before they react to others, they think for a moment about how the behavior they want to engage in at that time could be hurtful or helpful. Help them to see the folly of their ways.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a very particular eater who cannot share a plate with anyone. I was on a date, and over wine and flirtation, "Jess" reached her fork over and tried a bite of my food. I couldn't touch it after that; the meal had lost its appeal. I doubt Jess noticed, but is this quirk something I should be revealing to people, or should I expect them to have the manners to stick to their plate? -- Contaminated Calamari, Miami
DEAR CONTAMINATED CALAMARI: If you've got it that bad that you can't eat another bite if someone touches your food, you owe it to yourself and your dining partner(s) to say something. You can point out your quirky peculiarity in jest to make it heard without seeming too odd. Tell your dining partners that you have a phobia about food. Ask them not to pick off your plate. When they ask you why, tell them that you know it may seem illogical, but you have always been like this -- and you won't be able to eat if they reach over and taste anything on your plate. Now, if you are OK with sharing by placing a bit of food on a separate plate that you hand to them, make that suggestion as a way to keep sharing hygienically.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)