Mind Your Manners
Let’s begin with the napkin, formerly called a lap cloth, formerly called a tablecloth.
The napkin is your No. 1 table tool. And even before it was invented, tablecloths served the same purpose. Tablecloth overhangs were used by those seated at the table to wipe mouths, catch drips, and clean dirty fingers. Eventually, lap cloths or present-day napkins were used — perhaps that’s where the phrase to each his own came about. (Probably not!) Anyway, these young ladies learned just how important napkins are when dining. Napkins should be used to:
- Protect your lap
- Dab your mouth
- Catch a sneeze
- Cover a cough
- Remove unwanted food from your mouth
- Clean up an accidental spill
- Wipe your fingers and hands
And believe it or not, there are specific guidelines for each of those things. Most importantly, don’t wipe your mouth back and forth with a napkin. Ladies, you’ll smudge your lipstick. Guys, wiping your mouth will only serve to smear your food across your face. Etiquette requires you to dab at your mouth. One finger or two is acceptable.
Need to sneeze? Use your napkin to cover both nose and mouth before the sneeze, else you may send bits of your dinner flying into your neighbors personal space. That’s a big faux pas! After the sneeze, request a new napkin from your server and place the used napkin to the side or even under your leg on the chair. Use your napkin to cover a cough.
Did you bite into a bit of gristle or something unsavory? It’s perfectly acceptable to discreetly discard the unwanted bite in your napkin. Then just fold it up and continue on as if nothing has happened. It’s the polite thing to do! And one last tidbit of napkin advice: never, ever tuck it into your collar. (Young boys are excluded from this rule, or should be!) And when you’re finished eating, the napkin may remain to the side of your place setting, or on the chair — either is acceptable. Never place a napkin over the back of your chair. No one wants to view that!
The young ladies also learned about eating utensils and proper place settings. The average cover should be 18 inches wide, and up to 24 inches, per person. It’s key to have enough elbow room per person — but it’s never polite to put your elbows on the table. Your mama taught you that, I’m sure.
Water glasses should be placed above the knife on the right side of your plate. And forks? Start from the outside and work your way in. There’s more to the place setting story, but I like to refer to these visuals. These table lessons reminded me of the infamous scene from Pretty Woman, when Vivian is learning which fork to use during dinner.
Let’s talk bread for a moment, because truthfully speaking most of this was news to me. Your bread plate should be filled in specific order. First, pass the butter. If butter is wrapped in individual packets, remove from the paper with your butter knife, then place butter at the far edge of your bread plate. Fold the wrapper and discard under the bread plate. Always break your bread or dinner roll in half, first. Then break off one bite and butter it before eating. You should continue to butter and eat one bite at a time. Never slather the whole thing with butter and then rip off big bites from the whole roll with your teeth. That sort of mannerism is unsavory, sister!
The soup course: spoon away from your person and always tip the bowl away from you. If your bite drips, then that bite was too big to begin with. Ladies and gentlemen should take small, manageable bites. Propriety, please! And if you see something hanging below the bowl of the spoon, re-scoop and try again. No drips allowed.
Gail, the spectacular instructor, also taught the ladies how to gracefully enter a room, take a seat and sit in various ladylike positions. She stressed the importance of eye contact and a smile. Want to own the room? Hold a steady gaze and stand (or sit) up straight! It works like a charm, and in fact … it is charming to see these young ladies in such confident and polite poses.
Each girl was asked to identify two words. “Describe the impression you would like to make when meeting someone new.” Answers ranged from sophisticated and smart, to creative and friendly. Then they discussed ways to convey those impressions — everything from hairstyles to fashion to sitting positions. There is a big difference between a quiet smile that reaches the eyes and an open-mouthed grin that crinkles the cheeks. Sincerity and poise are key components in every situation.
There is more to the story, of course. In all, it was a lovely afternoon. And watching my oldest daughter and a group of her contemporaries blossom into young women in front of my eyes? Priceless.