Friday, January 16, 2009

it's never too early to teach good table manners (but it can be too late)

The Singer store is having a Winter special on Charm Lessons for Young Ladies. Sally is a little too young to sign up, but of course I'm already teaching her how to behave at the table. I think good table manners are important, don't you? It's surprising how many people don't seem to have them these days. I was particularly struck by this while dining next to Jimmy Barrett one night. He may be a big star but he's a boor at the table.

Here are a few basics I'm teaching Bobby and Sally. Some parents (like my brother!) are lax about table manners at home. But I think it's confusing to have two sets of rules: one for home and one for dining out. If children are brought up so that table manners are automatic, they're less likely to suffer dinner-party anxiety later in life. If you have any rules to add, please let me know!

1. Put your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down. Don't tuck it in your collar and never, ever blow your nose in it! Use your hankie!

2. When you are eating soup, tip the spoon slightly away from you, don't scoop it towards you, like mashed potatoes. When the plate is almost empty, tip it away from you, too, so if you spill, nothing will fall in your lap.

3. Never, ever hold your knife in your left hand.

4. Cut only one small piece of meat at a time; don't chop it all up like you are dissecting it for observation.

5. Don't straddle your knife across the edge of the plate, or even worse, place it half-off the plate as if it were the oar of a rowboat. The proper resting position for silverware is fork and knife crossed on the plate, with the fork turned down, the tines making a little bridge over your knife. This is why the tines are curved!

6. Signal that you are finished your meal by "marrying" your knife and fork on the plate. Place them together, resting in the center of the plate. Don't try to signal that you are finished by pushing your plate away from you. It's rude!

7. It's not rude to eat your asparagus with fingers.

8. Dessert plates are sometimes served with a finger bowl. Do not drink from this bowl! Remove it and set it on the table, slightly northwest of your plate.

9. After dessert, dip the tips of your fingers in the fingerbowl. Don't try to wash your hands! It is not a sink!

10. Don't try to look refined by sticking out your little finger when you pick up a cup. This is a mark of sophistication only on television!

11. Don't get up from a table until your hostess does.

12. Most important of all: Remember that you've been invited to a dinner party not because you're in need of nourishment, but because you're thought to be a valuable addition to the table. Keep up your end of the conversation! Don't just sit there, looking like a sad sack. Be gay! (A colleague of Don's is quite accomplished in this area--ask Sal for tips in guiding your sons!)