The art of eating in company is something that really ought to be taught in schools because it is not being taught in enough homes. I never cease to be amazed at the number of grown ups that have the most appalling table manners. Unfortunately for me, some of my close friends and family fall into this category so I often have no choice but to grin and bear it.
Where can I begin? At the beginning I suppose – the beginning of the meal – when sitting down to a meal with others it is good manners not to launch into your meal until everyone at the table has been served. It is not polite to reach across others for bread, condiments or communal serving dishes. Ask the person next to you to pass what you need and be mindful that other people may need things that are within your reach.
When you help yourself to some bread remember to break it or cut it into bite size portions so that you don’t have to tug a chewy crust away from your mouth. Don’t sprinkle your meal with salt and pepper without first tasting it. Trust your cook to have seasoned things correctly and, if the seasoning needs adjusting, be discrete about using condiments. Don’t make noises while eating and don’t eat with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full. Overfilling your mouth is also a big No-No especially if you are at a conversational meal. Cut your food into manageable pieces and swallow before speaking.
Learn to hold cutlery correctly. Using the wrong knife and fork isn’t as bad as using a knife and fork wrongly. Never eat food with your hands at the dinner table (except, of course, your portion of bread). When my children were young I insisted on their using cutlery. “You’re not at McDonald’s now” is one of the expressions they will always remember from their childhood. If you find yourself in a situation where you might have to eat with your hands (e.g. a picnic) remember that licking your fingers is extremely bad mannered. Find a way to clean your fingers without resorting to this kind of primeval behaviour.
How people drink can also be problematic. The difficulty generally arises with hot drinks. If a drink is too hot people will slurp in order not to burn their lips. Here’s an idea ‘Wait until your drink cools down a bit before drinking it’. It’s such a simple solution to the problem. In Europe slurping is just rude.
There are many more things I could include here but I think the basics have been covered. I won’t go on about TVs being left on during the meal, or people answering their phones and/or texting at the table. Let’s get the basic etiquette right first.