20-40-60 Etiquette: Stuck on you
QUESTION: We were at a party this summer, and my wife and I were standing and talking in a group. I noticed that she had food stuck in her teeth, and it was very noticeable. Should I interrupt the conversation and tell her, or just pretend I didn't see it?
CALLIE'S ANSWER: YES! You don't have to interrupt the conversation, though, you can give her the eye and motion to your teeth. She hopefully will understand what you mean. If not, interrupt.
LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: Since we're talking about your wife whom you know well and the moment has passed, now you can ask her how she would want you to handle it moving forward. This kind of thing happens to all of us, and it really isn't embarrassing unless the food is there for awhile. If that were the case, people would start to focus on the food and not the conversation. So the easy answer is, yes, tell her as soon as you can, or motion to her that she has something caught her in teeth. You also can pull her aside to tell her privately so she can remove the food without anyone seeing her. I would want to know if I had something stuck in my teeth, too. Don't make a big deal about it. Just don't let the conversation continue too long without saying something. That would be more distracting.
HELEN'S ANSWER: If you are at the table and you catch the offending food particle in your dinner partner's mouth, you can whisper the message quietly. If you are standing with a crowd, you can quietly tell the person, and then continue talking as if nothing happened.
I would sure want to know, as, not knowing about food stuck in my teeth, and continuing to talk and smile, is an awful thought!
Readers: Any tricks on how to tell people there is a problem?
GUEST'S ANSWER: Darlene Parham, community volunteer: I have been in this situation before. My husband, Larry, not wanting to embarrass me, waited for the conversation to die down and turned to the group and said,” May I steal Darlene away for a moment? We will be back in just a few minutes.”
Thankfully, he saved me from further embarrassment!
I would invent a way to help a friend or spouse in this situation. I would ask permission to steal the person away to help refill the appetizer tray, replenish the ice or introduce them to a new guest who just arrived. Anything to gracefully pull them away from the conversation and give them a heads up!
Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.