DOTHAN, AL, November 23, 2012 — Now that Thanksgiving is over, and while the biggest dining experience of the year is still fresh on our minds, it’s a good time to discuss table manners before the next holiday meal.
How you choose to eat when you are alone, whether you abide by Emily Post or eat on the floor with your favorite pet, is entirely your business. How you eat around other humans can have severely adverse effects on their digestive functions.
When I was growing up my grandmother was the final arbiter of all things at the table, and she seemed to have some kind of unpublished list of rules we had to live by. She didn’t care if we used the wrong fork or had the water glass on the wrong side of the plate, but God help you if you overloaded the fork or slurped the water. I never really did figure out why having my elbow on the table was such a sin, especially since my grandfather was allowed to do it, but I got used to hearing “Ricky, Ricky, well and able, take your elbow off the table.” Yes, I was called Ricky as a kid. Don’t spread that around.
I tried to teach basic table manners to my own kids and did fairly well until they hit their teen years. All of a sudden, somewhere around age 13, they started holding forks and knives like shop tools and didn’t really eat so much as just directed food in the general direction of their mouths. I related my grandmother’s expression that “manners are the oil of society,” but that was too lofty and didn’t make a dent. I would just get a response of “uh huh” over a mouth full of escaping food scraps. Dinnertime became more of a feeding frenzy than a time for socializing.
I translated my grandmother’s saying to teen talk: “totally gross, I’m gonna hurl chunks!” They seemed to understand that and I got some temporary relief from their feral habits. At least I was able to again reach for food without fear of losing my fingers to gnashing teeth, but it wasn’t a permanent fix.
Real order didn’t return to my dinner table until they grew up and left home. They have since found partners who eat much the same way they do and I generally decline offers to share meals unless I have a good supply of heartburn tablets with me.
The whole topic of manners seems to be very touchy these days and many people consider etiquette to be a violation of their personal rights. I’m not sure I see the logic there, but to avoid major controversy here are the top ten things anyone can do to prevent causing an involuntary gag reflex in a dinner guest or someone at the next table in a restaurant.
Everything on this list was assembled after years of living with teenagers.
* Turn off your cell phone and no texting at the table. If you feel a need to text with your dinner partner you are excused from the table to go for professional help.
* Use a napkin, not a sleeve, your arm, the back of your hand or the tablecloth to wipe your mouth. Don’t lick your lips or pull things from a beard and pop them in your mouth. There are additional rules for guys with beards by the way.
* Do not talk with your mouth full and keep all food inside your mouth. Take human bites and chew thoroughly to avoid choking. Teeth are the first defense against stomach aches and intestinal discomfort.
* Bodily functions such hacking up phlegm, blowing your nose or releasing gas or air from any orifice is definitely to be avoided. If you have to clean your ears or cut your nails, especially toe nails, that all must be done away from the table.
* It is generally safe in our society to assume that no one will steal the food off your plate, so eat more slowly. Taking your time also lets you find bones before you swallow them.
* Don’t dissect your food. Dinner is not biology class. If something looks wrong, quietly push it to the side and don’t shout out “hey, there’s some kind of booger thing in my beans!”
* You should generally try to attend to all bathroom needs prior to sitting down for dinner. If you find you still need to leave the table, you do not need to provide details on what you are planning to do while away. There is no need to report details afterward either.
* Learn how to hold and use silverware. A fork is used for solid foods, a spoon for very moist or liquid foods, and a knife is for slicing not chopping. Utensils are less intimidating to dinner guests when not waved around in the air while talking.
* If you need an item from across the table, ask for it and say “please.” Do not lunge across the table like a football player trying to intercept a pass.
* When you are finished eating do not scrape your plates or stack dishes on the table. Do not lean back on your chair, loosen your belt, unbutton clothing, make weird sounds or put your feet on the table. If you are finished and want to leave the table, just say “excuse me.” If you are a parent try not to respond with “there is no excuse for you.”
It’s about time to bring back basic table manners both at home and when eating out – and yes that goes for you too, Santa. I know you’re on a tight schedule, but nobody wants to see your cookie crumbs and milk stains first thing on Christmas morning!
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