This note from a reader prompted a video response:
I have a question about table manners that stumped me.
Last night I was invited over to my girlfriend's house for her birthday
dinner. Her mom made a fabulous dinner and she had been complimented by me
several times on how good the food was. When dessert came around it was a
very tasty cheesecake. But I felt it needed a little more lemon. I had
noticed the lemon was on the table before the desert arrived but
disappeared. So, I got up, excused myself and went to the refrigerator to
get the lemon out. I was bombarded by my GF and her mother saying that I was
rude for wanting to put lemon on the cheesecake. I have been over to their
house several times and almost live there.
Is this wrong?
Manners are designed to do two things. First, to discourage behavior that is unhealthy. Second, to save the feelings of people. Some people have very high standards and unusual standards when it comes to what constitutes good manners. Some believe that you should not even salt a dish because the cook presents the dish in the manner he or she believes is best.
However, there is a reason that salt and pepper are placed on the table - even in a fine restaurant. Most people would consider it appropriate to alter a dish to taste, (unless that alteration was more of a mutilation). Putting lemon on the cheesecake, if that is the way you like it, would not be inappropriate in most circumstances. But if you were aware of the consequences that this act would have in advance, you might have reconsidered if only to avoid the firestorm. If you meet such circumstances in the future, the way to handle it might be to say something to the effect, "What a great looking cheesecake. You know in my family we always put lemon on it. Have you ever tried it this way?" This should give you an opening to do what you wish, and might also be a spark to an interesting conversation.
If it makes you feel any better, I once committed a grand error by tasting my wife's cheesecake (before we were married) and saying, "My sister makes a great cheesecake; you should ask her for the recipe." Truthfully, I was just making conversation, but I haven't heard the end of it for 15 years. Note, she did marry me anyway.