Thursday, 9 December 2010

Proper Table Manners

Caroline Stow-Crat explains modern table manners.

People like us – that’s me and Harry, and our friends Gideon and Samantha – used to lay traps for the unwary eater. If you didn’t know how to eat oysters or snails or asparagus you’d be shown up. Oysters have rather gone out, and if you’re served snails you’ll be given a kind of forceps arrangement – you use it to hold the shell while you remove the snail with a fork. Asparagus? Pick up a spear by the blunt end, dip the pointy end in the melted butter and eat it. (Discard the blunt end.)

Globe artichokes: they’re not very fashionable now, but if offered one here’s the drill. Pick off the “petals”, dip the fat end in the melted butter or vinaigrette and scrape the edible bit off with your teeth. It’s not as crude as it sounds! Pile up the discarded petals on the plate provided. When you get to the middle, watch out for the spiky bit. Remove it with a knife and fork, and use these to cut up and eat the delicious “heart”.

If you do get invited to a very grand home, or the Lord Mayor’s banquet, use the cutlery (pronounced cutler-y not cuttle-ry) from the outside in. (Your soup spoon will be on the far right, and so on.) If in doubt, follow what your neighbours do.

In my mother’s day, at formal dinners you ate the fruit course with a silver knife and fork. But now when it’s just Harry and me and the children, we get something out of the deep freeze and eat in the kitchen. It’s so convenient having a 20-foot kitchen table. (I still call it a deep freeze because I'm conservative with a small c! "Freezer" sounds so American.)

Mummy also used to say that if you want the salt, you have to say “Would you like the salt?” and the party of the second part has to say “No, but would you like it?” and get someone to pass it to you. It may not apply to salt any more, but bear this code in mind if you want to survive life in England. Debrett’s says: “Top and tail requests with pleasantries.

You should never sprinkle salt over your food but put a pile on the side of your plate. Actually this is quite old fashioned – it would never work with a salt grinder. And Samantha never puts salt in anything, and doesn’t let you add it. She’s always on some kind of cranky health kick!

Mummy used to say that you shouldn't cut your lettuce or roll (and don’t call it a bread roll, because what else would it be made of?). We always eat lettuce with a knife and fork and nobody seems to mind.

When not using your knife and fork, lay them on your plate (don’t hold them in your fists pointing at your dinner companion). And don't spear the last few peas with the tines of your fork - just leave them there "for Mr Manners".

Samantha and Eileen both have strange family rules: don’t drink while you eat, no peas after 2pm, no mustard at breakfast, don’t cut the nose off the cheese. I don't know where they get them from! Eileen’s very keen on her children learning “proper table manners” so that they’ll know what to do on “formal occasions”. Samantha thinks every occasion should be INformal!

But really manners are easy. Keep your mouth shut while you eat, try not to talk at the same time, don’t chew noisily. Just try not to revolt other people!

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