No Missed Man­ners Here

MidWeek (Hawaii) - - Front Page - PA­TER­NITY WARD D. L. Ste­wart

The letter in The Wash­ing­ton Post this week seemed charm­ingly quaint, a throw­back to an era in which men stood up and doffed their hats any­time a woman en­tered the room.

“Dear Miss Man­ners,” the letter be­gan, “I find my­self stunned at most peo­ple’s table man­ners. For ex­am­ple: breaking bread/rolls and but­ter­ing each bite, us­ing a thumb to push food onto a fork, cor­rect uten­sil us­age (us­ing a place spoon for soup), cut­ting up an en­tire en­tree salad at once, serv­ing cof­fee af­ter dessert, leav­ing nap­kins on the table at end of a meal, pass­ing salt and pep­per to­gether, etc.”

When I spot­ted the letter I, too, was stunned, be­cause I had no idea peo­ple still wrote to newspapers seek­ing eti­quette ad­vice. Or that any­one con­cerned them­selves with table man­ners, any­more. I just as­sumed that ad­mit­ting you cared about table man­ners and eti­quette had be­come just an­other way of telling the world, “I’m re­ally old.”

But even be­fore I be­came re­ally old, I did my best to teach my kids table man­ners when they were grow­ing up. I may not have known what a place spoon was and why us­ing it to eat one’s soup was worse than, say, eat­ing one’s soup with a fork. But my wife and I did have some rules in an at­tempt to avoid hav­ing meals with our four teenage boys turn into din­ing with At­tila and his Huns.

Some of the rules were not open for de­bate, such as the one declar­ing that the re­quest, “Pass the pota­toes,” did not mean pass­ing them in the foot­ball sense of the word. As any­one who per­son­ally has raised a teenager will un­der­stand, though, just about every other rule im­me­di­ately be­came a for get­ting around them. And it’s prob­a­bly a mir­a­cle that only one of ours turned out to be a lawyer. The “no base­ball caps at the din­ner table” rule, for in­stance, had to be rewrit­ten af­ter a 14-year-old sat down at the table wear­ing a foot­ball hel­met. The one I thought clearly stated that no one could start to eat un­til Mom, or who­ever cooked the meal, was seated at the table lead to endless de­bates about whether sit­ting down re­quired one cheek or two. We didn’t even try to have a rule about el­bows on the table, be­cause that un­doubt­edly would have meant at the next din­ner all four of them would have their feet on the table.

So if Miss Man­ners’ “Gen­tle Reader” was stunned by the sight of salt and pep­per shakers be­ing passed to­gether, it’s prob­a­bly a good thing he or she never ate at our house. He or she would have fainted dead away.

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