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Dinner customs examined when Aussie comes to dinner

Dear Annie: I used to date a lady from Australia who was taught to hold her fork in the European/continental style. When she came to visit me in Milwaukee, she noticed my American style. She seemed put-off but didn’t say anything. We had a pending dinner date with mutual friends, and she thought I would be set straight by seeing how other people hold their forks.

When we gathered together, she was surprised that, “You all eat that way!” We both learned about differences from that point on.

She also was intrigued by my frequent use of wiping my mouth with a napkin. “Australians use it once, at the end of eating.” I always saw it as a personal preference. After a while, she confided that she liked my way better. Seems Aussies she knew wiped with sleeves throughout their meals.

Customs and habits can be born by tradition or by physical necessity. There really is no right way or wrong way. Different cultures can have diametrically opposed standards or mores, habits and customs. It’s all in perspective. — I Learned From an Aussie

Dear Learned From an Aussie: I love your open-minded perspective on traditions and culture. Learning about others makes life so much richer and deeper. A large percentage of people in the world don’t use knives and forks at all. Some use chopsticks while others eat with their hands.

Dear Annie: Your readers have great ideas, so I am writing to ask if any of them can help me solve a dilemma.

What can one give someone who needs nothing? I want to remember my friends at Christmas, but they don’t need yet another item. I want something a bit more thoughtful than just a Christmas card.

What do you suggest, and what do your readers suggest? — Gifts for Those Who Have Everything

Dear Gifts: One of the best gifts you can give to the person who has everything is to give to a charity that they are passionate about. That way, you are giving to those in need while showing your friend that you care about them for the holidays. But I like your idea of asking our readers how they deal with this issue.

Dear Annie: I would like to bring to your attention another possible situation garnered by your solution to the person who wrote to you about the new co-worker who accused another employee of sexual harassment. Your response to the person to leave it up to the human resources department was correct.

But let’s imagine that the employee’s complaint was, in fact, made up, and it was a cover for poor work performance. If HR wishes to terminate the employee, they might face a retaliation lawsuit from the newer employee because she filed the original complaint. The HR department must tread carefully because terminating this employee will have to be based upon documented poor performance and written warnings, or an untruth on her application or some other issue specific to the employer’s business.

The problem here is that while HR is documenting the problems, it will appear to the original employees that they are doing nothing because they cannot legally discuss the personnel problems of the new employee. If this employee has filed similar complaints with previous employers, the current HR department might not be able to document that because of nondisclosure agreements.

Problem employees often create circular legal issues for HR. I know this from experience. I have worked in human resources for 25 years, have a master’s degree in HR management, and I am certified as a Senior Professional in HR. — HR Department

Dear HR Department: I always love hearing from professionals in their field. Your letter gives everyone a sneak peek of what is going on behind the scenes in HR.

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“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.

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