Tuesday, 12 April 2011

In which manners cost nothing

Whilst on the tube on the way home recently, a piece in the Evening Standard caught my eye.

An enterprising American, cashing in on the wedding like several hundred thousand other people, has set up etiquette courses for little girls.

The notion of the ‘Princess Prep’ may make people shudder – not least at the thought of the type of mother who’d send her undoubtedly precocious brat to such a thing. Personally, I would suggest that if you want your daughter to see the Crown Jewels, take her to the Tower; and most riding schools I know will happily give an hour’s lesson in exchange for a Saturday spent mucking out. But that’s me.

However, I have come to the alarming conclusion it’s probably not as ghastly as it seems. In my experience, a large chunk of the population – not just spoilt little darlings with social climbing parents – could do with being given a course in basic manners, particularly when it comes to eating.

I have plenty of childhood memories of my parents doing their best to instill in me a cursory set of manners. There were pleases and thank yous; no feet on the chairs; no elbows on the tables and definitely no talking with one’s mouth full.

My slightly barmy great-great aunt did her best on one occasion to undo their hard work by persuading me that it was, in fact, fine to lick my pudding bowl once I’d finished to make sure I didn’t miss any of the ice cream. I got a sharp telling off from Granny and a wicked grin from Great-Great Aunt. She was awesome.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people I’ve come into contact with recently hadn’t been taking GGA at her word.

At risk of sounding like the world’s oldest, crabbiest, stuffiest woman, what in the name of all that is holy has happened to people’s table manners?!

Out for dinner recently, I was horrified at my companion’s total lack of anything resembling polite conduct at the table and have now decided table manners are one of my deal-breakers. There’s just no way I’m going to date a guy if I’m embarrassed by his conduct in public.

It wasn’t just the little things like an incorrectly-held knife (I say little: HKLP is a dumping offence in the books of some people), or a napkin nicety. With his face in close proximity to the plate, he inhaled his pasta with the enthusiasm of a starving orphan, unsure he’d see food ever again.

Unlike an ex of mine for whom manners madeth the man and were of paramount importance at the smart dinners held by his parents, I’m not too fussed by adherence to all the niceties of the British dining table. A little bafflement is understandable when faced with an array of silverware and an aging, old-school uncle who still insists on eating fruit with cutlery.

But I do like people to know what I would consider to be the basics: which hands a knife and fork are held in; which way up the fork goes; and that you don’t talk with your mouth full.

Maybe I should start a class – ‘how not to be an uncouth eejit’. That’d sell, right?


Dream in Grey said...

If you wrote that as a book it probably would sell.

Also - which hands to hold the knife and fork in surely depends on whether you are left or right handed?

'Elbows off the table when somebody's eating' was a mantra in our house when i was small, along with 'don't talk with your mouth full' and 'not until you've eaten all your vegetables'.

Caroline said...

I couldn't agree more - table manners (any manners, in fact) are a dealbreaker for me. Knowing the difference between a soup spoon and a dessert spoon, knowing which is *your* side plate and which is your water glass - they may seem outdated rules to many, but to me they show that someone cares enough to have learned these things and respects others enough to apply them.

I once had a first date with a fella who licked his knife. Needless to say he didn't get a goodnight kiss, let alone a second date...


I ate dinner at the table with my brother and parents every single night. "Elbows off the table, close your mouth, cut don't drag the meat, chew your food thoroughly...". Eighteen years of that, every night. I STILL cannot eat nicely, I just can't. Going for a meal? My idea of hell. I'm sure I have dyspraxia, there are a number of fine-manipulative tasks I struggle with. Please don't assume someone is a write-off due to their table manners, there may be one or two people you meet who are like me. I am aware of how offensive sloppy etiquette can be, and try hard, it's no reflection of my morals or attitude that I struggle. Honestly!

Ella Ivey said...

"old-school uncle who still insists on eating fruit with cutlery" - Brilliant.

It annoys me when people hold on to their cutlery whilst eating as if they're holding on to a shovel.

Redbookish said...

But doesn't everybody eat their orange with a knife and fork? It's awfully messy otherwise.

My grandmother taught me that a lady always uses a butter knife even when she lunches on her own.I add that a lady always uses a jam spoon, even when she breakfasts on her own. I mean, it makes sense because then you don't get crumbs in the butter or butter in the jam.

Zstep said...

This coming from the girl eating squid ink pasta on a first date? Although perhaps this should fall under "Dicey Decisions" rather a more etiquette driven category.

nuttycow said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with table manners being a deal-breaker. It goes hand in hand with a working knowledge of decent grammar and punctuation, being able to at least attempt a crossword (and no, the Sun quick one doesn't count) and not being afraid to try new things. Oh God, just thinking about it, I have a whole list of deal-breakers. No wonder I'm single :)

HC said...

I nearly thumped a guy who, with his own fork at least, proceeded to nick chips off my plate without asking. This was about as close to affrontery as I have ever experienced. Mrs C knows better than to go anywhere near my plate so this chap could have ended up in the Thames, regardless of whether it was his birthday or not.

Blonde said...

Dream in Grey: A book. Now there's an idea. Complete with diagrams... You might be on to something there. I would argue that left-handers could probably get away with a swapped knife/fork, but not for the rest of us. And yes - veg was another refrain in our house too!

Caroline: YES! The side plate issue is one that can become exceptionally awkward. Why aren't people told these things these days? And KNIFE LICKING?! Eww.

LUCE: Ah, but you're aware of it, so I imagine you're far more elegant than you imagine.

Ella Ivey: Gods above, I couldn't agree more. The only exception I'll make to the fork being the wrong way up is for peas - tricksy little blighters.

Red: You are welcome to eat chez Blonde at any time. Someone who understands the importance of no crumbs / jam in the butter is someone I like.

Zstep: Ah, but my pasta-eating manners were impeccable. The sauce just bested me. (You're right though - daft date choice extraordinaire).

NC: Oooh, you're right on the crossword too, y'know. x

HC: Hah! HC doesn't share food, huh?!

HC said...

Beneath a veneer of English properiety lies a failed Italian actor.

How do you do.

heybartender said...

I never understood the elbows off the table rule. Why? What is so offensive about elbows? And what's with switching your knife and fork from hand to hand with every mouthful of food? What is more polite about that?
Talking with your mouth full is gross for obvious reasons, but I don't understand how the rest of this stuff is offensive. I guess I'm just too American.

theperpetualspiral said...

Do not get me started on poor table manners, for that is a subject that will see me climb onto my soapbox and remain perched upon it for many hours.

jman said...

The essence of manners is to be considerate of another. How switching hands for utensils and using a side plate fits in with this escapes me, but no doubt this is because I am one of the great unwashed "ejits". It must be difficult to enjoy one's food when one is monitoring everyone else at the table's every move despairing when the salad fork is used for something other than salad. The horror, the horror.

Blonde said...

HC: How do you do.

Heybartender: You know, I have no idea where most of them come from, but they are - or rather, were - deeply ingrained in the British psyche (we don't swap our cutlery around though...). But they're there, so we stick to 'em!

TPS: Oooh, go on... You know you want to.

Jman: It is, you're right. Hence the apocryphal story about a chap at a very grand dinner who drank out of the finger bowl: to make him feel at ease, the hostess (followed by everyone else) did the same. But if there are rules, everyone knows where they stand. I'm not horribly fussed if someone uses the wrong fork, as it won't be pointed out to them. But eating politely is something I think everyone should adhere to - Brits or not.

HC said...

On topic, for once. Have manners evolved sufficiently to become more accepting of pea scooping yet?

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