When my daughter and I saw that an etiquette class was being offered at a country club near her high school, we both signed up. The purpose of the event was for the high schoolers to learn proper meal etiquette. The idea was that, in the not so distant future, they would be interviewing for jobs and they were much more likely to be hired if their manners were impeccable. Although secretly I figured that most of the people giving the interviews wouldn’t know their manners so well themselves. Well, maybe they knew enough to put a napkin on their lap, but… I’ve seen terrible manners exhibited by people who ought to know better.
My daughter and I thought we already had the table manners thing down, but we decided it would be fun to go anyway just to eat the delicious four-course meal for a bargain price at a fancy country club. In reality, we had barely skimmed the surface of all there is to know about the proper way to dine.
The tables for six were randomly assigned, so we sat with a group of people that we didn’t know – two lively pubescent boys in nice white shirts and tan pants that kept laughing, a sophomore girl with her hair pulled up in a high tight ponytail and her mother, who was lively and talkative.
Our lessons began as the soup was being served. I’ve broken the lessons down for you in case an etiquette class is not being offered at a high school near you.
SALT AND PEPPER
Salt and pepper are married to each other. Did you know that? I’ve been doing random surveys of my friends and family to see if they knew this fact, and most of them had no idea. I salute you if you do. To practice, my daughter asked me to pass the salt. Before I picked up the pepper, I thought, Here you go, Mr. Pepper, even though you might not want to go with your wife, even though you might need a break from her salty personality and a night out with the boys, you have to come along.
Did you know that the only thing that goes on a bread plate is bread and butter? No, you cannot put an olive pit on a bread plate. If you have an olive pit, you must dispose of it ever so discreetly in your napkin, without anyone at your table noticing. How do you do it, you ask, delicately, ever so delicately?
THE LEMON SLICE
If there is a lemon wedge on your water glass and you don’t like lemons, too bad. You still must pick it up and gently drop it in your water glass. Even if you hate lemons, suck it up. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT LEAVE A PIECE OF LEMON DANGLING ON THE EDGE OF YOUR GLASS. This is bad manners. Who knew that this was such a no no? Not the pubescent boys in their crisp white shirts, not the sophomore girl with the high tight ponytail, not her mother, not my daughter. Not even me.
THE BREAD BASKET
Did you know that rolls should always be passed counterclockwise (from left to right)? The boys couldn’t get this one “right” and kept passing them to the left until we all laughed ourselves silly. Who invented this rule? I was so curious, I decided to do some online research after we got home. Rolls are passed to the right because most people are right handed. Poor lefties.
The boys couldn’t seem to figure out how to use their knives and forks properly ……
They were told to hold a piece of chicken with their forks and carefully cut the meat towards them, not to use a saw-like effect. They just couldn’t get it right and we weren’t sure we were doing such a great job either.
And when it came to dessert, the boys used forks to eat their chocolate pudding. My daughter and I laughed so hard we had to spit up our coffee in our napkins. The Mom and the girl joined in and giggled with us. I accidently put my elbows on the table and we all roared.
It was fun to learn how much we didn’t know about table manners with a group of strangers. We had nothing invested in each other, so we felt free to makes mistakes.