What Not to do (or Eat) at the Dinner Table


Music – “The Table Manners Polka” from The Best Foot Forward Series: Gratitude Attitude by Mike Soloway. Released: 2013

If you have ever traveled to another country that is vastly different from the USA (and yes, close as we are, Canada is very different from the USA!), you will have observed food customs and what is considered bad form, when a meal is served to you. For example, during the middle ages, it was considered rude to cram out one’s cheeks with food, “like an ape”.

table manners 5Equally offensive was to wipe your eyes or your teeth with the table cloth, and for goodness sake, you wouldn’t dare be caught spitting on the table (forward thinking, those people).
table manners

Emily Post first published her book, “Etiquette“, in 1922. In the 1943 edition I have, she has a chapter entitled “The Great American Rudeness“, in which she laments about the sad state of affairs concerning Americans and their table manners. She points out that the first rule at the court of Queen Elizabeth of England read: “It is forbidden to strike the Queen in the face or to forcibly take food from her“. (one wonders how this rule came into the books) Ms. Post believed that if we were to act in such a way today, with our friends, it would be ruder than “The Great American Rudeness” of the present day.

A hostess, who permits herself to be served first is rude. Equally rude is the guest, who asks the hostess, “Do I cut here“, while poking the roast beef with his fork. And for heaven’s sake, DO NOT lean back in your chair and say “I’m through” if you do not wish to be thought to be boorish.

Totally inappropriate table manners for an infant

Totally inappropriate table manners for an infant

Even infants should get off to a good start at developing a lifetime of appropriate table manners. According to Ms. Post, when a child “…can eat without spilling anything or smearing his face or his lips, and drink without making grease “moons” on his mug or tumbler….he may be allowed to come to table with his parents – perhaps regularly, or perhaps as an occasional treat, instead of being fed in his nursery”. She further admonishes that once the child has “graduated” to the dining room, “…any reversion to such tactics must be nipped in the bud”. (ie., banished back to the nursery).

A cookbook I found not too long ago, The Kazakh National Cuisine, by Seit Kenzheakhmetuly, published in 2007, features some pages in English toward the end of the book, including “Omens, Bans and Popular Notions Regarding Meals”. In Kazakhstan, it is considered bad form to step over the food and a child should not eat brains, lest he or she grow into ‘…a very slow and sluggish person’. In addition, pregnant women should not eat camel’s flesh so that their pregnancy will not be lengthened (the camel bears it’s fetus for 12 months). At the table, it if a man eats food, which was intended for someone else, his wife will give birth to a girl.
table manners 2

From “Art of Lithuanian Cooking” by Maria Gieysztor de Gorgey, the author talks briefly about Lithuanian customs and points out that bread was highly respected and that, in traditional folklore, “bread” was a synonym for “food”. In fact, in the past, if a piece of bread fell to the floor, it was mandatory to pick it up and kiss it.

Mrs. Rorer, in “Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book”, 1902, has strict instructions for company dinners, which are rather involved affairs. A guest must never be left without a plate, except when “crumbing” the table following the salad course.

table manners 3 The dinner hour is always six o’clock. A guest may break bread, unless he or she has already used it with the oyster course, which is permissible.

Gordon Grimley edited “The Victorian Cookery Book”, published in 1973 and talks about Victorian table manners. He refers to “Cosmopolitan Cookeryby Urbain-Dubois, published in 1872, dictating what is appropriate behaviour at the Victorian table:

“When the hands are not occupied with carving or conveying the food to the mouth, they may be reposing on the edge of the table, but only as far as the wrist”. In addition, “…the fork ought to be used with the left hand, the points or prongs turned downwards, and pressed on with the extended forefinger, to maintain it in an almost horizontal position, and not in a perpendicular position”.

So much thought must go into minding your p’s and q’s that you’d have little time to eat!
table manners 4
I suspect that today’s table manners might suggest that one turn’s off one’s cell phone during the meal, and the IPods, IPads and tablets be temporarily banished from the table. Perhaps Miss Manners would ask children to not leave their plates looking like a science project gone bad. Ah, such is progress.

Family Dinner, circa 2013 Tsk, tsk,tsk.

Family Dinner, circa 2013
Tsk, tsk,tsk.

About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,500. What next? More shelves?
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