(Or you may not be invited to the party)
October 17, 2019
A number of years ago I was asked to cater a very formal dinner party. To be absolutely sure we didn't embarrass ourselves-or worse the hostess, I purchased a used copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, by Judith Martin (the updated 2005 version). I studied how to set the table, the correct way to leave & remove plates, (FYI: leave from left, remove from right), and where to place the bread plate, glasses and napkins.
After digesting the chapter on "table settings," I got drawn in and couldn't help reading more. Very enlightening, in an archaic way: according to Miss Manners, it is no longer against the law to wear pearls in the daytime. Who knew? Fortunately, that law enforced in Venice and Florence during the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries has since been revoked. However, tiaras are still only appropriate for full evening dress occasions. I packed my tiara away when I moved to Waitsburg. I just knew it wouldn't work with my jeans.
Miss Manners also advises that lobster is best enjoyed in the privacy of your own home, so you can indulge with abandon and forgo the ugly lobster bib. To properly eat an ice-cream soda, "first eat the cherry alone with spoon" then, according to Miss Manners you eat the whipped cream with the spoon, don't attempt to force it into the glass. I won't bore you with the whole process because it does go on for an entire paragraph, explaining how best to take the first sip through the straw, drinking the entire concoction, and noted most importantly; you're only allowed no more than three noisy slurps. (I swear it's on page 193).
Ok, most of her book is old-fashioned or over the top in today's world, but, good manners, in behavior, or at the table, are never outdated.
My parents were adamant about "us kids" having certain skills, speed recitation of the multiplication tables, observing curfews, not beating up our siblings till we drew blood, but table manners, topped the list. Hence, my father's purchase of Tiffany's Table Manners for Teenagers. That book was required reading for me and my siblings, we had to read, sign & date the book's inside cover. Even today, I still enjoy reading the book. A short read, written with great wit and lots of illustrations, so even today's teenagers will have the attention span to make it through to the end.
Some things you might not know if it weren't for this great tome. Yes, it is acceptable to have your elbows on the table, but not while actually eating. And, yes, it is appropriate to eat asparagus with your fingers as long as you don't do it like a trained seal. When eating soup, tilt the bowl away from you to get that last spoonful, no risk of spilling on yourself, and, please NO NOISE! If you spill water on your partner, offer your napkin and apologize. Don't start mopping the person's lap, or any other part of the body, for that matter!
My favorite piece of advice is the last one. "Remember that a dinner party is not a funeral nor has your hostess invited you because she thinks you are in dire need of food. You're there to be entertaining. Be gay. Do your part. Don't be a gloom."
So, whether you read Miss Manners, or Tiffany's Table Manners for Teenagers, know that their "rules" that can be a little laughable today, remember, manners matter. Polite, civil, courteous behavior is never outdated.