Table Manners

Maybe it’s the Brit in me, but there are certain manners that are very important to me, and I insist on teaching them to my kids. (Now I am in no way, shape or form saying that all my kids follow all of these things all the time….but in an ideal world they would)

One of my biggest pet peeves is the drinking of soup. First of all, slurping it is just so rude! I have been to business lunches etc and these most powerful executives just slurp it up without a thought.  Secondly, one is supposed to keep one’s back straight and bring the soup spoon up to the mouth. I know that somewhere there is a halachic backing to this too – the soup serves us, we are not supposed to bow down to it. You are also supposed to scoop the soup away from you.

No elbows on the table, put hands in laps unless needed to eat, no fingers in food, napkins are there in order to protect your clothes, not hide food you don’t like. No reaching across people for the dish you want, ask for it to be passed. If there is no salt on the table, do not insult the hostess by asking for it. No talking with mouth full or wiping mouth on sleeve. No knife in mouth, ever. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t use napkins to blow your nose – don’t blow your nose at the table. Euw. Don’t pick your teeth or lick your fingers at the table either. Keep all chair legs on the floor.

A big one in my house – there is to be no reading at the table (no texting or talking on the phone either). Meal times are family times, everyone needs to contribute to the conversation.

If you have a food allergy let the hostess know way before time so she can accommodate you. (I live by this, having a fatal mushroom allergy).

In our house I expect the kids to wait to eat until everyone is served and sitting down. (except for soup, it’s ok to start that because it’s hot).

When one is done eating I was taught to put my knife and fork on the plate, at an angle, to signify I am done with this course.

When the kids were little I taught them to ask to be excused from the table when they were done eating. I remembered the youngest one being 2 and piping up “please I be scused from table?” – very cute. They surprise a lot of people by doing this, but so many have said they wish their kids were so polite. I still insist they all ask permission, especially when we are eating somewhere else.

When you start with the kids young enough you can get most of these manners ingrained. However I find that most children these days wouldn’t know table manner if they smacked them upside the head. Many adults too, unfortunately. Good manners go a long way.

ETA – I absolutely insist that all baseball caps or hats of any kind are removed before sitting at the table, unless worn for religious reasons (that covers my hats and snoods) . Breakfast is fine to eat in pajamas, but no other meals.

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  1. David says:

    It IS okay to ask for salt — it is rude to do so without tasting the food first.

  2. hadassahsabo says:

    i have been to so many places where they add salt to the food before tasting it – how on earth can they know whether it needs it?

    i was always taught that you cannot ask for a condiment if it isn’t at the table. (of course, ketchup follows different rules)

  3. ladylockandload says:

    I am sure ketchup is always on the table at your house ;)

  4. G6 says:

    Amen to that!!!
    (oh, and I don’t care how good the gravy is…. no licking it all up with your fingers or even worse, off the plate :O !!!!

  5. Yehuda says:

    Slurping: no argument.

    Sit straight: no argument.

    Scoop away: this is not really a manners issue, but a practical issue; you don’t want to scoop soup onto your lap.

    Remember that manners is meant to make other people feel at ease: either because it sets a known tradition so people won’t be embarrassed and confused (such as not knowing what to wear, say, or use), or because it prevents other people from being disgusted with one’s actions.

    Direction of soup scooping is somewhat conventional, but it’s not going to disgust someone if they see you scooping toward yourself rather than away. Slurping and slouching is a different story.

    Elbows: no argument, but I’ve been known to let that one go if not too prominent.

    Hands in lap: why?

    Fingers in food: there are exceptions to this, such as BBQ chicken and asparagus, but otherwise no argument.

    Napkins: Hiding objects is sometimes more polite than other actions. For instance, using a napkin to cover up removing something from your mouth. Looking at what other people have hidden in their napkins is rude, however.

    I’m assuming that you are referring to cloth napkins, anyway; paper napkins are barely within the province of good manners.

    Reaching across: no argument.

    Condiments: meh. I understand your position, but I don’t think most people would take offense if someone asked for a condiment such as salt.

    Talking / wiping: no argument.

    Knife in mouth: no argument.

    Chew: no argument.

    Blow nose: It’s not always possible to get up in time; turning one’s head away may be sufficient, followed by saying “excuse me”.

    Pick teeth: British and Americans may not do this, but some cultures have no problem with picking teeth with provided toothpicks, and it isn’t considered disgusting. Go figure.

    Licking fingers: Exceptions include BBQ chicken and a few others.

    Chair legs on floor: no argument.

    Reading at table: this is by convention. Many people allow reading at breakfast, but not at other meals. Assume not, unless otherwise.

    Allergies: no argument.

    Waiting to eat: no argument.

    Knife and fork on plate: actually, there are several conventions for this, including left side, right side, and crossed. These indicate to the servants whether or not to take the plate for the next course. I guess you don’t have servants, so how the cutlery is arranged is probably no longer relevant.

    The major point is to keep the cutlery off the clean tablecloth. For which there are special devices, also which I assume no one owns any longer. A possible use for a cloth napkin.

    Asking to be excused: no argument.


  6. Rachel says:

    I think I’ll enlarge this post, and hang it in my kitchen and dining room, then make my kids read it out loud . . . everyday. . . ’till it sinks in!

  7. Chanief says:

    Reading at the table is a pet peeve of mine, and one which my husband and I disagree on. I was raised that you do NOT read at the table and have tried to enforce it but the man of the house sees absolutely no problem with whipping out a book or magazine during a meal. It’s quite frustrating to me so I’ve made a rule – you can read at the table if you are eating alone. I still catch the kids with books at the table but one day I will break them of that nasty little habit. It *really* irks me.

    My kids have been trained to ask to be excused and I find it amusing that people are always so impressed by it. Do their kids just up and leave? It seems to be basic good manners for kids to ask to be excused before leaving.

  8. Z! says:

    I loved hearing those cute squeaky voices asking to be ‘scused!!

  9. Kathrin says:

    I would sign most of these – with one exception. I have allergies, and in summer, when it is especially hard, I would have to leave the table every other minute to blow my nose. By the time everyone else would be finished, I wouldn’t even be half done with my food – and it would be cold.

    Make that two: I’m famous for getting soup on my clothes, so I will not sit with an all straight back while eating soup. I prefer clean clothes when I’m not at home ;-)

    Well, and the reading – usually I am alone at the table (single, student), so some company is more than welcome! Otherwise, though, we don’t read at the table either usually.

    I totally agree on warning hosts of food allergies! I am allergic to nuts, almonds, cucumbers and asorted other foods that many people consider standard food – not for me, I’m afraid, because I neither need blown up lips (cucumbers – lasts a week!) nor anything else.

  10. le7 says:

    Hmmm wow I feel really embarrassed after reading this. I always asked permission to leave the table…

    but how do you eat soup without leaning forward?

  11. Z! says:

    Yuo can lean a bit forward, but not hunched over the bowl. The spoon has to get 75% to your mouth, not vice versa.

  12. le7 says:

    That probably works better when you don’t have chronically shaky hands…

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