Maybe it’s because I’ve been with all my grandkids fairly recently, but table manners are on my mind. We even talked about it in Tomball, and I was pleased that Colin is quick to praise his kids’ manners. Kegan caught me with elbows on the table the first night. In my defense, I had finished eating, but his reprimand started an ongoing thing, and I caught all of them with elbows on the table at one time or another.
I was raised by a father who was a strict disciplinarian when it came to the dinner table. None of this coming home and getting into comfortable clothes for him. He appeared at the table in a white shirt and tie, and my mother usually showered and put on a fresh dress for dinner. We ate on a white linen tablecloth, with linen napkins—and napkins rings so the napkins could be re-used. Napkin rings are now a thing of the past.
Dad was Canadian, and his concept of manners was British. Elbow on the table were a big no, of course, but other things were more difficult. “Do not butter your bread in the air. Put it on your plate to butter it.” Have you tried that? Awkward. The fork was another awkward thing that caused me grief. Most Americans cut food with the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left; then they switch the fork to the right to take a bite (if you’re left-handed none of this applies). Not so Europeans—no switching that fork to the right hand.
My brother, who rebelled against much of our upbringing, really bought the manners thing, and he enforced it with his kids and, at weekly family dinners, with mine. The result is they definitely know what fork to use. And, mostly, they have passed it on to their kids. Still, a couple of things bother me.
One is that excuse, “It’s just family.” Dad preached (he was really a preacher’s kid) that manners were to make other people comfortable dining with you and therefore, you used your best manners with your family, because they are the people that matter most.
Some of the boys in my family want to wear gimme caps to dinner—not at my table. I have a vision of my father writhing in agony at the thought. And cell phones? Dad never had to deal with that, but there’s no doubt what he would have thought.
Grazing is another thing that really bothers me. When I was a kid, we had a snack when we came home from school, but we could not eat after 4:30 because coming to the dinner table and saying, “I’m not hungry—I just ate,” was not tolerated. We dined together as a family—and no TV on.
Today a lot of kids seem to graze constantly, standing before cupboards and refrigerators, surveying the contents, looking for the next thing to eat. I think it’s born out of boredom—makes me want to suggest a good book--and is frankly an unhealthy habit. Even worse is the habit of picking at food out of the pan in the kitchen—my kids know if they’re guilty. When I used to fix Sunday dinner for fifteen to twenty, I always worried about there being enough, and to find people picking away at the food while it was still in the kitchen made me ballistic. Besides, I’m sure it’s not sanitary. Today, we have some who snatch bacon as quickly as it can be fried. Christian often fries the bacon for big family breakfasts, and he considers it a self-defeating task because it gets eaten as fast as he can fry it.
And finally, there’s consideration at the table. We had link sausages for Christmas breakfast and a fuss was made of how much Morgan loves them. But she only took two. When everyone had some, she took one more—but she left several in the bowl in case others wanted seconds. That’s consideration—and it matters most with family.
To me, good table manners are a password to advancement in the world—if you have them and practice them, you can go anywhere; if you don’t practice them, you’re stuck wherever you are. And family is the best place to start.
Okay, rant and lecture over. Thanks for hearing me out. I expect rebuttals from some of my kids. Will keep you posted.