Do Table Manners Matter? April 30, 2018
In the brave new world of grown up Australian cuisine, the traditional and the innovative often jostle for supremacy. In our al fresco, no mess no fuss eating landscape, we ask: do table manners matter?
Australian food can sometimes be a little confused. We’re frankly spoilt with our access to fresh produce, yet lots of the country still expect their fruit and veg to turn up at their local supermarket giant, looking perfect and blemish free. We think of ourselves as a land of wide open spaces that we’ve filled with grazing cattle and barbecues, but we don’t have a national cuisine formed in an agrarian past. None of our national dishes are the product of bountiful harvest, of tomatoes needing to be preserved or pumpkins providing summer sustenance as the weather grows colder and the ground harder. We’re proud of our fancy coffee and smashed avocado on toast, but we’re also a nation of cheap sausages and convenience foods.
In short, Facebook literate terms, it’s complicated. So where does that leave our rules of table etiquette? Are we a nation of slobs, or do we simply see the flaws in silly traditions?
Watch your elbows!
You know what? As Hannah Montana once said, you get the best of both worlds. There are definitely some advantages to behaving yourself at the table, that can be helpful whilst dispensing with stuffiness. Here are our tips for how to encourage good behaviour, and be on your best behaviour too.
As a Host
- Let people know ahead of time how formal your event will be, then set the scene. If you expect guests to be on their best dinner party behaviour, set the table properly with a place for each guest. If the event is more informal, cutlery in a central location will suffice, or even some napkins around the coffee table.
- Don’t be afraid to let things slide. There’s nothing worse than a stressed out host, shrilly requesting no one double dips. Let the party flow and trust your guests to be respectful.
- One old fashioned etiquette tradition you may like to resurrect is the allocated name place. At a gathering where groups of people who haven’t met are being brought together, set seating can ease the awkwardness of striking up new conversations. Treat it like a Miss Marple-esque novelty and see if people don’t respond!
- Be better: a host who properly invites people to an event and thanks them for coming will inspire the same kind of genteel behaviour in others. Once this behaviour is established, it takes hold and starts to bloom like a beautiful, polite flower.
As a Guest
- Put your elbows up on the table if the meal requires it (think dips, prawns, Lebanese food). No one is genuinely upset by this, and it’s a rule that pretty well exists to shame others with your elitist knowledge of a laundry list of rules.
- Observe proper cutlery positioning. During a meal, your knife and fork should rest on your plate (never on the tablecloth, please!) at around 8:40 and 4:20 on the ‘clock face’ of the plate. Your fork should be ‘down facing’ – i.e. the opposite of a rake that’s about to be involved in an hilarious slapstick prank. To signal you are finished, place your knife and fork parallel to each other. Vertical, horizontal or on a 45 degree angle are all fine.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Good etiquette is designed to make socialising easier and more enjoyable, so do your part and strike up conversation with other people. This applies for parties as well as dinner at home – ditch the phone and have a chat over your evening meal!
- The oldie but the goodie: chew your food with your mouth closed! New age freedoms aside, the jury is firmly in on this issue and more people find this habit disgusting than they do endearing. Do everyone a favour and save your sparkling conversation until after you’ve swallowed your cheesy beef nachos.
In short, yes. Table manners matter – to an extent. Although a lot of etiquette is a product of a bygone era, so are cars and we’re still pretty reliant on them. Consider the above as the electric car equivalent of good manners: streamlined, better for you and the world around us, but still necessary when you’ve gotta get from A to B.