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As a little girl, I heard this kind of criticism all the time. I was always told to eat properly and was taught table manners gradually as I was being brought up. “Where are your table manners”, a remark I heard all the time.
Now that I am grown up, I realize how much I have been blessed to have a family that valued etiquette and manners. As I look around, I see how these have become rare in our time. I walk into people’s houses and see a mess. Where are your manners people?
They are eating with their fingers, licking them all over, spilling on the table, no napkin on their lap and sometimes a napkin is not an option at all! I can’t help but wonder; where have these beautiful manners gone? Where are elegance, courtesy and grace of our parents and grandparents as they ate their dinner?
You would see a perfect dining room with all the plates and flatware placed to make a beautiful table setting with shiny silverware and napkins folded in swan shapes. There would always be a tasteful bouquet in the center and you would have your dinner elegantly, listening to the sound of the light music in the background and talking about your day. Everyone would be smiling. Everything would be so graceful.
Of course, there would be things not everyone can afford today. The dressed up tender who would be in charge of bringing in the meals in order from appetizer to dessert is one thing. But what about the things everyone can afford to do at the comfort of their homes? Why don’t we all make a pact today to train ourselves and our children to eat properly and gracefully? Deciding to have table manners is easy and fun. The feeling of elegance and courtesy that is associated with it is priceless.
Set the Table
Start by setting the table. Never compromise the table setting; it is where everything starts. When you are setting the table, make sure you have all your tools in hand; dinner plates and soup plates all from the same pattern and color, the glasses, the flatware; forks, knives, spoons, and salad forks (slightly smaller) and finally the table cloth and napkins. The best napkins are usually the ones that are of cotton. You can buy these at any home accessory or linens store near you. To make things more perfect, try to find ones that come with a matching table cloth, also made of cotton. Or if you would like to make a stylish throw, get napkins of a slightly lighter color tone than your table cloth, same material though. (For example; brown table cloth and beige napkins)
In front of each chair, place a dinner plate and a soup plate on top of it. Then, place the fork on the left side of the plate and a salad fork on its left. The knife should go on the right side of the plate, with the spoon on its right. The shaft of the knife should be facing outwards. Fold the napkin in any shape you like and place it on the left of the plates. You can add a napkin ring if you want to make things even more sophisticated.
The glasses should be placed on the right, right above the spoons. And the bread plates should be on the left next to the forks.
We’ve all gone to a dinner and used our neighbor’s fork, glass, bread plate, or husband. My, how embarrassing! But if you get confused, remember liquids (e.g. your water) go to your right, and solids (e.g. bread plate) go on your left.
Unfold your napkin and place it on your lap. You want to wait for everyone to be on their chairs and for the host to unfold her napkin. Once you sit to have dinner, NEVER put your elbows on the table. It’s either you place your hands on your thighs, or you slide down your elbow so it’s off the table.
If there is soup first, take your spoon with your right hand and gently, without slurping, sip it from the side of the spoon. If the soup is too hot, let it rest until it cools but don’t blow in it. Eat bread by tearing off small bite size pieces and buttering only the piece you are preparing to eat.
When dinner is served, take your fork with your left hand and your knife with your right hand. Normally, you should mount the bite to your mouth using your left hand as well. But if you have to eat with your right hand, then cut your bite, place the knife down, shift the fork to your right hand and eat it then switch back. Do not hold the fork in your right when cutting your food. And last but not least, rice must be eaten with a fork, and not with a spoon like most of us do. Yes it’s hard on some people but if you want to eat properly you have to get yourself to do it.
Cut your food into small bites, chew slowly always with your mouth c-l-o-s-e-d. Never speak when you have food in your mouth. If someone asks you a question, you don’t have to answer right away with your mouth full. You need to swallow first, and then speak. Don’t you worry about having him wait for you for if he’s familiar with table manners, he’ll understand! And if you are eating in small bites as we agreed, chewing and swallowing shouldn’t take much time.
Now, the tricky part that no one knows about; serving the food to your plate.
Normally, in every serving plate there will be a serving spoon for this item alone. Don’t serve two items with the same spoon. Don’t serve food with your hands. Don’t touch food with your hands. If you must (like with some fruits) you have to take whatever you touch. Never touch something, check it out, decide you’re not going to eat it and return it back. And finally, take the food that is on your side of the serving plate. Do not look around and pick the best pieces to yourself. If you need something you cannot reach easily, just politely ask the person closest to it to pass it to you.
Also a dilemma, what to do with your utensils when you are not using them? Well, the right thing to do is to lean them on the sides of the plate while you are talking, then to take them back when you are ready for your next bite.
When you are finished, place your fork and knife on the plate perfectly parallel to each other across the plate so that their tips are pointing towards 10 o’clock and their handles are pointing towards 4 o’clock. Grab the napkin, wipe your mouth if you need to, and then place it neatly to your right. Don’t fold it but don’t wad it up either. Don’t leave the table until everyone is finished. Return the chair after you get up.