Q. My dear friend is an amazing and beautiful person, but she has a terrible habit. Every time we go out to eat together, she chews her food with her mouth open. It’s very distracting to me and to others around us. She can be sensitive to criticism, though. So how do I bring this topic up without offending or embarrassing her?
A. How lucky you are to have such a wonderful friend. It’s obvious that she is important to you. That being said, it’s not your job to give her etiquette lessons. Although your advice is well-intentioned, it may not be well received by a person you describe as sensitive, and therefore it could damage your relationship.
Instead, try leading by example. If she asks you a question while you’re still chewing your food, put a finger in the air to signal that you’ll answer her after you have swallowed. Should she start to talk with her mouth full, you can (gently) say, “Hold on till after you finish your food! I don’t want you to choke.” With luck, that will do the trick. But if she really can’t take the hint, I would suggest avoiding eating out with her completely. Meet her for coffee or a glass of wine. That way, you can still talk at length without having her habit ruin your appetite.
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Want to Ask Your Own Etiquette Question?
Submit your social conundrums to Catherine at realsimple.com/modernmanners. Selected letters will be featured on the website each month.