I just read an article in The Guardian (it can also have been The Independent, or another of those snooty self-acclaimed newspapers for the discerning few) about table manners for our current era. And basically, how old table manners (all manner, for that matter) had either become obsolete or were on their way out. New table manners have come into place. But all they seem to do is focus on when and how to use your smartphone during dinner.
My short answer would be: not at all. Unless you are waiting for a transplant organ, have a wife in labor or are expecting news about a dying relative, you really should be able to turn your phone off and leave it in your pocket or handbag. I even question whether you should be dining out at all if such a scenario loomed. I know I wouldn’t be.
In the new table manners guide, it no longer matters whether you use your left hand or right hand to carve your meat, just as it is no offense to pour salt on your food before tasting it, or drink wine from a water glass. Even an elbow on the table is no longer a big no-no, nor is it to go to the toilet during eating instead of waiting until a course is over.
I pity the future generation, I really do. I wonder how long it will be before restaurants open where you just sit in front of a television with your plate in your lap. Because that seems to be where we are heading to.
What we need to focus on here is why table manners were invented in the first place. People who have little or no knowledge ot traditional table manners and etiquette may be forgiven for thinking these weird rituals only exist to make them feel uncomfortable or out of place. Why else would there be three glasses next to your plate (top right), and what is that little saucer doing to your left? And: if you happen to be left-handed then why is it wrong to carve your meat with the knife in your left hand. What’s wrong with carving up everything first and then shoveling it all into your mouth just using one hand anyway?
To all those people who say that being left-handed is a perfect excuse for using a knife in the left hand, or to just use one hand while eating, I have just one word to say. Car. If you can drive a car using both hands, and if you can do so without mixing up left and right, you can do it with a knife and fork as well. Apply yourself. It can be done. And there’s lots of other things we need both hands for. Playing the piano. Typing. Opening anything with a child-safe lock. You name it: you do it all the time.
Why is it wrong to carve with the left hand? Because your elbow will most likely be in the way of your neighbour who ís using his or her right arm. Simple. All those silly rules have been put into place for one thing and one thing only: to avoid embarrassment, in yourself and in others. Why have we all agreed glasses are to the right and bread plates to the left of our plates? Because if everyone does that, nobody will be in someone else’s way when he wants to drink something or butter a slice of toast. It’s all so very simple.
I am so annoyed when I see indulgent parents leave their kids to run wild at the table, and not teaching them proper manners. These kids will grow up feeling awkward in many social situations. If you can teach a child to multiply 6 times 8, a Hail Mary, or a Pledge of Allegiance, you can teach it to use a knife and fork, to not speak with a full mouth, to sit still and to eat properly. Why are Chinese children able to handle chopsticks already as toddlers, while spoilt European kids sometimes never even learn how to use a fork?
Manners matter, because they instill confidence in kids. Kids don’t get confident because their parents applaud everything they do. They need structure and boundaries. Knowing manners means that they know how they are expected to behave, and that is a great source of security. Nobody likes to feel awkward, or to be conspicuous for negative reasons.