Without a doubt, etiquette has cultural biases. In some parts of the world, for example, burping after a good meal is a polite way of informing one’s host that dinner was delicious. In other parts of the world it is considered rude not to remove one’s shoes upon entering someone’s home. Needless to say, it is not always easy to navigate another culture’s customs in regard to etiquette. But what about our own culture? Increasingly, Americans either don’t know or don’t care about doing and saying things that generations ago would have been deemed inappropriate and gauche.
By the way, I am not referring here to the misuse of a salad fork but rather to the more important ways in which people interact. (Both my kids attended Cotillion classes, though truthfully I don’t know if you could measure how much either one of them took away from the experience).
Things have changed since I was a kid and I think this has less to do with a strict adherence to etiquette and more to do with boundaries. When the sixties ushered in “do your own thing” and “if it feels good, do it”, it didn’t quite take into consideration the effect all this would have on those who were more or less being forced into doing “someone else’s” own thing.
Growing up, I referred to my friends’ parents as Mr. and/or Mrs. Yet when my husband and I moved to the suburbs with our kids we discovered that all children were encouraged to address adults by their first names. Likewise, years ago doctors and nurses didn’t automatically assume that one wanted to be addressed by anything other than their surnames. (These days an eighty-year old man might justifiably object to being called Freddie by a twenty-something nurse).
There were questions that one didn’t ask: How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you pay for your house? People also share more personal information with strangers than those strangers need to know, whether it’s medical, financial, sexual, or domestic in nature.
At a dinner party I threw, I overheard one of my guests ask another, “So how much money do you make, if you don’t mind my asking?” (Incidentally, these last six words, “if you don’t mind my asking” are always added to the inappropriate question in order that the one asking the question not come off as being nosy. As if!)
One of my personal pet peeves is when two people are dining and a friend of one approaches the table and begins a lengthy conversation. He or she should say a quick “hi, nice to see you, I’ll phone you and we’ll catch up”….then leave! Another problem I have is when people have you on a speaker phone and neglect to inform you of the presence of others.
It’s not surprising that as a culture we seem to have lost our ability to honor boundaries. We’re bombarded with television programs like The Jerry Springer Show, which encourage people to shed their inhibitions and to say whatever it is that’s on one’s mind.
I’m not suggesting that we return to a rigid, “how do you do madam” society. I just think that perhaps we all need to think about when and if we are crossing some boundaries when we interact with other people, particularly new acquaintances. Regretfully, with a loss of certain boundaries, often comes a loss of civility.
Below, I’ve listed some table manner no-nos I thought worth mentioning even though many of them are no brainers. Just some food for thought (and how to approach that food).
. Speaking while one’s mouth is full of food.
. Eating anything other than finger foods (fried chicken, ribs) with one’s fingers.
. Eating off another person’s plate (I’m afraid I’m sometimes guilty of this one when it comes to fries)
. Slurping one’s beverage or soup.
. Applying any make-up other than lipstick at the table (this holds doubly for men:).
. Neglecting to place one’s napkin on one’s lap as soon as one is seated.
. Pushing food around on a plate with one’s fingers rather than a utensil or a piece of bread.
. Using a toothpick at the table.
. Texting or speaking on a cell phone for any length of time. (This is extremely rude; it’s okay to answer a call if you believe it might be an emergency)
. Laughing loudly, behaving raucously, and generally being boorish,
thus disturbing other patrons’ dining experiences).
Have a terrific weekend and thanks for joining me on this week’s journey along RHODES LESS TRAVELED,