Table Manners – Disappeared for Good?
Yes, I know, I’m having a rant, another one. But seriously, lately I’ve taken to wondering if I was alone in being taught table manners as a child. Are these simple social rules simply not deemed necessary any more or are we just too darn lazy / busy /distracted by modern life to practice what we were taught those many years ago?
The ability to behave correctly at the dinner table was once regarded as a vital social skill, one which was taught from early age to avoid embarrassment in company. How you behaved at mealtimes was, along with your dress, appearance and general conduct a key indicator of your social standing, and dinner occasions were important opportunities to demonstrate this to acquaintances.
So important was dining etiquette that endless articles and books were published on the subject, from Mrs Beeton to George Washington, who wrote “Make no Shew of taking great Delight in your Victuals, Feed not with Greediness; cut your Bread with a Knife, lean not on the Table neither find fault with what you Eat.” We’ll forgive him his grammar faults as his idea of good manners are still quite relevant today.
Perhaps it was high time that the more formal aspects such as changing dress for dinner died away, as a great many of the strict rules and regulations of generations before are simply not feasible in our busy modern lives. Additionally, it’s probably fair to say that as we now live in a society in which people wear pyjamas to Tescos, the argument that dining etiquette is vital has been somewhat diluted.
But I do miss the more simple manners such as waiting for all diners to be served before beginning and putting your knife and fork together (or at the 10 to 4 position more accurately) when you’re finished. I’m an old-fashioned girl who likes the aspect of ceremony in my mealtimes with guests. I enjoy the process of preparing different complimentary courses, presenting the dishes well, and enjoying the dinnertime conversation which makes a dinner party more than just eating. But I’m increasingly finding I’m rather alone in this antiquated notion of mine.
I once sat at a dinner for ten in which one member loudly began a telephone conversation over his pasta and continued it for a full ten minutes, while eight of us had to stop talking as we couldn’t hear ourselves over him. When finished, he calmly put the phone down and continued eating, oblivious to his shockingly rude behaviour. I also dined with a woman who was so bored at her boyfriend’s dinner time small-talk that she told him so and proceeded to turn the TV up repeatedly until she drowned him out. I’ve even been at dinner tables when people have lit up cigarettes between courses. To top it all off, there were children nearby. That was the day that I found out that incandescent rage rather decreases the appetite.
I could go on forever with examples of diabolical dining and I’m sure you all have your own anecdotes too – so go on, share, what’s the worst example of (bad) table manners you’ve seen? Are there any you desperately hang onto? Am I an old-fashioned relic to even care?
Pic via Amazon.com