Ask Amy: Wonderful grandson is terrible at the table

Dear Amy: We have recently been reunited with our son’s child after 10 years. He is 13 — and is delightful, well behaved, and intelligent.

However, unfortunately, he has terrible table manners.

We went to a restaurant and it soon became apparent that he has never been shown how to use a knife, a napkin, etc.

I didn’t want to be critical, so I tried saying things like, “I find it easier to cut my food if I hold the knife this way,” or, “I put my napkin in my lap so I can wipe me mouth,” — that sort of thing.

This was met with a blank look and the behavior resumed.

It won’t be possible to speak to his mother about it, and again, I don’t want to be critical.

How can I teach him table manners, other than modeling good behavior?

— Mannerly Grandmother

Dear Mannerly: You have just met this boy. I infer from this that there has been substantial upheaval in his life — perhaps a parental split and possibly a custody shift.

If his father is on the scene, it would be most logical to speak with him about it. You might assume that he has mainly eaten directly out of fast-food bags.

I wouldn’t present this as a top-line concern, however — because the whole family is readjusting to your grandson’s re-emergence, you should step carefully and kindly into his life.

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Adolescent boys are sensitive and tender creatures, with acute awareness about being judged by others, and they are surrounded by conflicting and confusing messages about how they should behave.

For now, don’t correct him, hint, nudge, or use body language to convey your disapproval.

You want to be the people in his life who completely accept him, right now — just as he is. When he is feeling more comfortable, he will relax and start watching how you comport yourselves, and over time you can model and offer gentle instruction.

A great way to introduce table manners is to involve him in cooking a meal. All teens should know how to make a stack of tasty pancakes.

Show him how to set the table. And then sit down and eat together.

Dear Amy: My boyfriend has made a habit out of using birthdays and holidays as an opportunity to upgrade his own lifestyle — under the guise of generous gift giving.

After buying himself the latest upgraded laptop, he gave me his used laptop for Christmas. (He did spend money getting it cleaned up.)

For my last birthday he took that opportunity to upgrade his own set of scuba gear and gave me his used gear.

The thing is, I’m not a diver, and my current laptop is perfectly adequate for my needs (the one he gave me is much less portable).

He gets upset if I politely decline these gifts, so these items are really just taking up valuable closet space at this point.

Am I ungrateful or am I justified in feeling a bit stuck in an ungrateful recipient position?

I’m also not able to figure out why exactly this irks me, and it seems ingenious to fake enthusiasm as I’m walking gifts over to the closet.

Your reaction?

— Gift Horse

Dear Gift Horse: This irks you because it is irksome.

There is nothing at all wrong with giving a loved one a reconditioned, used, vintage, second-hand gift (in my opinion), as long as the item is personal in nature, wished for or asked for — and not the direct descendant of the giver’s own upgrade!

(I’m talking about you — unwanted, unloved, and unused scuba gear!)

You should convey to your guy, “Honey, if you want to give yourself new stuff, then good for you! But I don’t want your castoffs. In the future, you should sell the stuff you don’t want and use the proceeds however you wish.”

You might be able to drive this point home the next time you upgrade your phone. Wrap up the old one and present it to your guy.

He might say, “Thanks, babe — but I don’t need this. I don’t want it. I already have one!

And you can say, “Exactly.”

Dear Amy: Thank you for your empathetic reply to “Survivor,” the abused person who wanted to confront a childhood bully, years later.

You wrote: “Vengeance doesn’t quiet rage; it stokes it.”

Put another way: Revenge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.

— Beth

Dear Beth: Yes! This profound statement rings so true.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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