Emily Post Rant: Part I

My cherished vintage 1942 copy

For years I’ve lamented the endemic lack of manners that I’m faced with on a daily basis. My friends joke that I am the modern Emily Post. While I’m sure I would be expelled from Finishing School by the end of the first week, I feel compelled to gripe about my latest pet peeves. When I set out to write this entry (which was formulated in my head like all others before I opened my laptop), it was immediately apparent that my list of poor-manner-pet-peeves is longer than I realized.  So I revised my rant to include bad table manners only, and will bore you with social media lack-of etiquette, gym issues, parking spot rants and basic human decency another time.

A display of inappropriate table manners is the most basic way to turn me off.  I know that at formal events all the glasses and side plates can be confusing, and there are ways to overcome those pesky problems — but I’m referring to bare bones basics.  I’m fairly certain that most of us were taught to use a knife to help the food onto the fork, to use a napkin instead of a sleeve, and not to slurp.  If you must blow your nose at the table (I get it — I have allergies too) please turn your head and say “excuse me.”  While this does draw attention to your snot issues, it shows consideration and acknowledgement on your part. And your fellow diners will greatly appreciate it.

At a recent event I attended, I witnessed a prominent executive hold the fork with his right hand, as he used his left index finger to push rice onto his fork. I’m sure that he thought I was mesmerized by his intellect and scintillating anecdotes, but all I noticed was his nauseating boorishness.  Licking the knife and double dipping in the butter dish did not add to his allure.  When I caught myself and averted my gaze towards the guy across from me, I saw him use his right thumb and index finger to swipe down the sides of his mouth. To be fair, maybe he lost his napkin under the table.  A server was nearby and I was tempted to get one for him, but I remembered he was not one of my kids.  I just felt badly that his mother was not there to help him.

Before the entree was served, several of us ordered soup.  I’ve noticed that soup can be particularly challenging.  Since they were toddlers, my kids have heard the “don’t slurp or I’m not serving you soup” lecture, which my mother drilled into my head a generation earlier.  I am not criticizing tilting the soup bowl towards you instead of away from you which, by the way, tilting away — is the proper way to tilt a bowl — I am talking about not slurping.  How hard can it be to put the (proper) spoon into your mouth and swallow in relative silence?

Most parents have drilled “don’t talk with your mouth full,” into our heads at an early age. While much of what we were taught is old-fashioned, no longer applicable or annoying, this simple piece of advice transcends generations.  Use it.  I am highly interested in what you’re saying, but not when I’m distracted by the progress your teeth are making on bits of food.  As a side note, I will be the first to discreetly tell a friend she has spinach in her teeth. That’s what polite friends do.

As usual, if I don’t laugh I’ll cry, so I place a bet with myself regarding the level of crudeness I’m about to witness at the start of these business dinners.  I enjoy watching execs order wine and eagerly anticipate their mealtime follow-through. I love the showmanship of ordering wine. Lengthy consultations with the sommelier, examination of the label, tasting, rolling, swishing, using words like “full-bodied” and “oak with a hint of…” They have this act down to a science.  Then the meal comes and they themselves turn into a science experiment.

Here’s an easy trick I taught my kids: BMW.  With the dinner plate in the center, the bread plate will be to its left (“B”).  The meal will be right in front (“M” — I think we all have this one covered) and the water will be placed on your right (“W”).  Easy right?  The next time someone drinks out of my water glass, I may just spill some in his lap (by accident of course!).  My 13 year old daughter just read this post and reminded me that as for cutlery, she employs the ‘smaller-to-larger-as-the-meal progresses’ trick.  Private message me (or her) if you’re not sure what I’m referring to.

And that brings me to the issue of CUTLERY.  Recently we were at a favorite burger joint with friends, and although most of the meal required ten fingers and 10,000 napkins, I still needed utensils to spread my gobs of ketchup.  I asked the server for cutlery, and she said she couldn’t hear me.  I repeated my request, and she apologized, saying she still couldn’t hear.  I realized that the issue was not auditory but rather a matter of comprehension.  I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I politely acknowledged the “noise level” in the restaurant, and rephrased my request for a “knife and fork”.  She happily obliged.  She’s in the food business for crying out loud. Place settings, cutlery and utensils are part of the lingo, no?

For the sake of clarification and honesty, and in the hopes that I have not lost all my readers permanently, please understand that we are a normal family – no different than yours.  I was raised with a standard of manners that even my parents have long abandoned, but still haunt me to a certain degree.  So blame them if you want.  I just want my kids to know how to use the right utensils, employ a napkin instead of their sleeves and be ready for civilized dining.  I also prefer to not hear food being chewed, and welcome dinner conversation, between completed bites.  I appreciate an “excuse me” after an inevitable burp and in place of a self-satisfied grin of relief.  We all have bodily functions, but do they belong at the table?

Am I asking for too much?




4 thoughts on “Emily Post Rant: Part I

  1. Eriss- I just shared the link with my other family members. I can’t tell you how many fights and ruined dinners we have had due to talking with food in your mouth. It’s not permitted here. And the biggest culprit is not either of my sons!

    You missed one. My second table manners pet peeve is when I put a serving platter on the table with utensils. Instead of taking the item off the plate with the utensil, the plate is picked up and the utensil is used as a pusher to shove the food onto the dinner plate. Then the serving platter is put back down with all the goo dripping off the sides 🙂 Ugh.

    And finally, I was once at one of those male dominated dinners with the whole stupid wine ceremony. Not knowing any better, I offered to taste the wine. You would have thought I had committed a crime. I guess I ‘leaned in” just a bit too far!

    Great post. Really hit home.

    • AND Barbara, what about NOT using the utensil on the serving platter and using your own fork in the serving dish?! I could go on for days. But now no one wants to eat with me anymore… 🙁

  2. I have a theory about the never talking with your mouth full bit. As a child this is reinforced my mom. As we move toward adult hood there seems to be a sinister force to re-educate or indoctrinate us to move counter to this well established common sense rule of etiquette.

    Eating out is considered to be much more formal than at home yet I remain convinced that the wait staff “waits” until they observe your mouth full before sprinting over and asking if everything is ok. Repeat this thousands of times and the effort of dear mom is erased from our memories and replaced by a muffled answer… yes, with your mouth full of course. If you say nothing and ignore them you are rude and risk possible ill intervention on you next course. Answer and you break moms rule. Quite a conundrum. Since mom is not here and I treasure the sanctity of my food I am forced to go with the mouth full as the less risky of the two bad choices.

    I’m certain this is a conspiracy.

    • YES! Yes! YES! I forgot all about that. Why can’t the “wait” staff wait until your mouth is empty? I’ll add that to my list of pet-peeves. My family and I actually joke about that often!

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