It's not polite to decline the green ravioli


SAN FRANCISCO -- They made the ravioli the wrong color at the Palace Hotel, but Mrs. Stettner's class was too polite to complain.

"It's supposed to be red," mused a 6-year-old boy the other day, as he poked at it with his fork. "This is green. Yuck."

The last word was whispered, lest the hotel staff overhear. Mrs. Stettner's students are nothing if not polite. That's because they're studying politeness.

Every year, Marlyeen Stettner teaches politeness to her first-grade class at Grattan Elementary School in San Francisco and wraps up the semester by persuading a fancy downtown hotel to serve lunch to her kids on real tablecloths with glasses that break if you drop them, as one student did.

This year, it was the Palace Hotel. In hushed awe, the kids were ushered through the portals of the same hostelry where President Harding died of rumored food poisoning in 1923, although everyone was too polite to bring it up.

The chefs, perhaps determined to atone for the past, whipped up an elaborate feast of such foodstuffs as fried basil, saffron and taro root.

"I told the hotel that hamburgers would be fine," Mrs. Stettner said, also in a whisper, as the class took its assigned seats inside the resplendent Garden Court.

"I know my students," she added. "There's going to be a lot of wasted food today."

Leading off was the green ravioli and stewed tomato. Thank you, thank you, said the kids, out loud. Privately, they were of another mind.

But everyone said thank you as the plates were taken away, and most of the kids meant it sincerely.

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