Ah, table manners. Those ever-changing, imaginary rules of etiquette used while eating. How I miss the ones near and dear to my heart. Seems there are ever evolving descriptors and oddities from the sublime to the ridiculous that can be defined as table manners. Definitions have changed so much over the centuries that Table Manners from The Emily Post Institute include keeping your smartphone off the table and set to silent or vibrate as one of the top ten oh-so-important table manners. What?
Please tell me I don’t have to tell you who Emily Post is. Okay...she was an American author famous for writing about etiquette - a long time ago. She died September 25, 1960, the same year I was born. I grew up living the standards of etiquette she established with her seminal book Etiquette in 1922. Times change, but the principles of good manners remain constant.
What are the principles of good manners? While we may think it’s the right or wrong way to do things at the the dinner table, good table manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. That’s kind of refreshing. Having that awareness automatically equates to good manners, no matter what fork you use - although remembering to use the utensils from the outside in is a useful bite of information.
Polite table manners have an underlying sincerity and good intention vibe - these things matter most. Some say Etiquette is the science of living - embracing everything about ethics and honour.
There are lists upon lists of items that constitute good table manners - etiquette while dining. Top ten lists, right down to the list of 100 good table manners to tables of dining table do’s and don’ts.
In 2017, here are some of my favourites, modified with my interpretation:
Chew with your mouth closed. I bet you have all had someone telling you at some point in your life this very thing, or a version of it. I can hear my mother with her witty remarks to bring home the point - ‘don’t talk with you mouth half-full; fill it up!’ Oy.
Utensils are not shovels. Don’t hold them or use them like they are.
Avoid slouching and don’t place your elbows on the table. ’Get your elbows off the table - this is not a horse’s stable, but a first class dining table.’ Ah Mom.... For those of you who like to rest your elbows on the table - I’ve got good news! It’s perfectly acceptable (even in Emily’s day) to prop your elbows on the table while conversing between courses.
Ask for things to be passed - no reaching!
Table manners, be it at a fancy restaurant, in the cafeteria or at home make for a more pleasant meal. Remember, good manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.
It seems the DON’Ts outweigh the DOs when it comes to table manners. DON’T - talk about gross things; overload your fork or plate; play at the table; hum or sing at the table (Mom said that was a sign of disappointment - just saying); tip or lean your chair; lick your fingers; pick your teeth.
In the mid 1990s, I became acutely aware of the shifting table manner etiquette rules of my world. While vacationing at a family resort, I was mortified when a family came into the restaurant, sat down and proceeded to enjoy a meal together. I couldn’t stop staring in disbelief as all this took place while the father and the teenage son sported baseball caps. Horror of horrors. I’m sure Grandma was turning over in her grave and if she could have, she would have teached up and been knocking those hats off heads.
I felt so strong about this. Why? Because in my upbringing, hats were never to be worn at the dinner table. We didn’t question why. So, why is it rude to wear a hat at the dinner table or better yet - is it rude to wear a hat at the dinner table? Like many etiquette gestures, the hat thing is steeped in custom and tradition. There is an old English custom where hats are tipped when meeting a lady or to ‘say’ to anyone, male or female - thank you, excuse me, hello, goodbye, you’re welcome or how do you do.
The tipping of your hat was a conventional gesture of politeness. From there it became a mark of respect to remove your hat during a meal, funeral, church service, when greeting someone or any other occasion when you want to signify you respect the person. For me, taking your hat off at the table is still a sign of respect and that you are sensitive to my feelings. I’d much rather see hat hair, a labyrinthine of hair once the hat is removed at the table, than to see the hat.
Seems we all have different ideas about what constitutes proper table manners. Manners are steeped in tradition and are culturally varied. The important thing to remember is good table manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.
What matters most? The underlying sincerity and good intentions of respecting others to evoke appropriate table manners for the occasion. I tip my hat to etiquette.
Nancy Revie is a Guelph author, motivational speaker, fitness instructor and entertainer. Visit Nancy at www.nancyrevie.com. Her column appears every other week