Just in time for Thanksgiving: A crash course in table manners | Kitsap Week

Ask Erin. - Richard Walker
Ask Erin.
— image credit: Richard Walker

My mannerly Grandma Win surely cringes in her grave when my family dines.

Our elbows are on the table and our napkins aren’t properly placed in our laps. I can practically hear her chanting, “Mabel, Mabel, if you’re able, keep your elbows off the table.”

In our culture of quick meals and hurried schedules, our table etiquette has become a tad rusty. This Thanksgiving, I plan to reclaim a civil dining table. Of course, I need to refresh my own etiquette memory.

-Napkins should remain in your lap at all time— not used as a bib, not crumpled on the table. There is some debate regarding what to do with your napkin if you need to excuse yourself during the meal. Some people say to leave it neatly folded on your chair, others say to leave it neatly to the left of your plate. I suppose if your napkin is heavily soiled with gravy stains, it's best to leave it out of sight.

-Pass to the left or to the right? I always forget this one. Here’s an easy way to remember: It's right to pass to the right.

-When dining at a  formally set table, you work from the outside in with your flatware. The outside small fork is used for salad. The larger fork is for dinner, and the tiniest fork is for dessert.

-Wait to start eating until everyone at the table is seated, served and waiting. It’s time to begin eating when the host lifts his or her fork.

-Remember that salt and pepper are a happily married couple. They don’t like to be separated. Even if someone asks you for the salt, pass along the pepper as well.

-It is not polite to reach across other people. If you have to stretch out your arm to reach the item, you need to ask for it to be passed to you. In extreme circumstances, if you must do so, excuse yourself before hand by saying “Pardon my reach.”

-Serving utensils are for serving, not for your personal use. For instance, when taking a serving of butter, use the knife on the butter dish to put a pat on your plate. Then, use your own knife to spread the butter on your roll.

-People enjoy seafood, but no one enjoys see-food. Chew with your mouth closed and don’t talk with your mouth full.

-If you are served a food item that you don’t care for, make every attempt to take a couple of polite bites.

-Remain seated until everyone has finished eating.

-Make polite conversation by asking questions of those seated around you.

-Compliment and thank the host for the meal.

-Ask the host if you can help in the kitchen, clear the table or dry dishes.

-If you brought a side dish to share for the meal and there are leftovers, offer some to your host before taking the dish home.

-It doesn’t matter if you are dining on paper plates or fine china, exquisite manners are always in good taste.

— Ask Erin is a feature of Kitsap Week. Have a question? Write Ask Erin, Kitsap Week, P.O. Box 278, Poulsbo 98370 or email Questions can range from advice to practical issues.


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