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bookish1's avatar

What kind of table manners did you learn growing up?

Asked by bookish1 (13069 points ) July 28th, 2012

What were you taught to do with your hands at the table? What hands/implements do you use to eat with? What about burping, is that not a problem or to be avoided at all costs? Anything else I’m forgetting?

Have you stuck with these habits, or taken up new ones?

I get confused about table manners all the time because I was taught two different sets growing up:

-what I think of as WASPy American table manners (knife in right hand, fork in left hand, switch fork to right hand after cutting a bite; hands in lap while unoccupied; excuse yourself if you burp but it’s better not to at all);
-and also Indian table manners (no such thing as a knife, eat with your right hand or a spoon and/or fork, your left arm stays on the table because you don’t use that to eat, burping is cool, haha).

So now, the table manners I employ depends on who I’m eating with, what I’m eating, and even sometimes what restaurant I’m in. And I’m not even going to begin to describe how confusing it is for me to eat at an Indian restaurant in France…

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38 Answers

augustlan's avatar

I was taught the American way, no elbows on the table, definitely no burping at the table. In junior high home ec classes, this went even further, teaching us about what order to use silverware in (if there’s more than one fork or spoon in the table setting, etc.) and how to properly set a table in the first place. So, I know all the rules. However… some of these rules are just stupid. When I’m among friends and family, I almost always have at least one elbow propped on the table, and I frequently cut more than one bite at a time. If I’m with my kids, I might even burp at the table. GASP! That said, I did teach them not to do that kind of thing in ‘polite company’. ;)

this_velvet_glove's avatar

I remember things like “don’t eat with your hands” (I still do, when there’s noone watching), “don’t burp” (it’s not that easy not to do that!), and other similar stuff.
I usually eat alone, though.

downtide's avatar

Knife in right hand, fork in left. No elbows on the table. No burping. Ask for permission before leaving the table. When helping yourself to food from a communal bowl on the table, never take the last item without offering it to others first. Don’t reach across in front of other people to get something from the table. Eat everything on your plate.

jca's avatar

What silverware to use, how to hold the fork and knife and switching after cutting. Left hand should not be on the table at all, it should be in your lap. Napkin, too, should be on your lap. Food is not a toy, so don’t play with it.

DigitalBlue's avatar

I don’t remember. I have table manners, so I learned them somewhere, I know how to behave myself in public (and so does the rest of my family).... but growing up I don’t remember it being a “thing.” It still isn’t a “thing” when I eat at my parents’ house. The dinner table is our favorite place to discuss things like religion, politics, and bowel movements. Burping is usually something brushed off or ignored as a natural thing that happens, or laughed at if it is particularly enthusiastic.
Clearly I learned decent table manners somewhere…. but in a family situation, it’s very relaxed.

Trillian's avatar

No elbows. Left hand in lap when not employed cutting the food. Ask for items to be passed,don’t reach, and never reach across someone’s plate. (I still want to scream when I see this done.) No body functions at the table. Excuse yourself and leave the table if you must do that. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t talk when there is food in there. Don’t make noises with your mouth in combination with food or drink. Voices remain at conversation level.

DesireeD's avatar

No elbows on table, napkin in lap, proper way to hold utensils, no burping, proper table conversation, ask to be excused, mouth closed while chewing, no talking with food in mouth, no gulping of drinks, eat slowly, no shoveling food in mouth,

Shippy's avatar

My family must have been weird, which they were but never mind. Not too much use of condiments, like tomato sauce, that was an insult to the cook. Eat with your mouth closed, and that was about it.

I was taught manners by life. Today I value them, I find them very charming too, as not many people have any.

ragingloli's avatar

The quote the founder of protestant christianity: “Why don’t you fart nor burp? Wasn’t the food to your liking?”

josie's avatar

See many above.
Don’t rest arms or elbows on the table
Knife in right hand, fork in left, then switch
Otherwise, left hand in lap – meaning don’t use it to tip the soup bowl, push food onto your fork etc.
Don’t reach for serving dishes, salt pepper etc.
Don’t eat until everybody is served
If you are a dinner guest in somebody’s home, eat what is served – meaning don’t leave behind a serving of something on the plate.
Don’t leave the table without excusing yourself.
Fold the dirty napkin rather than leave it as pile on the table.

jca's avatar

It really is gross to me when I see people pushing food onto their forks with their left hand.

bookish1's avatar

@josie: I forgot about “Don’t eat until everybody is served.” I find that a LOT of Americans do this, and it really bothers me !

Brian1946's avatar

The first ones in the pride to eat their fill, have to stand watch for hyenas!

Sunny2's avatar

Almost all of the above, plus: finish one bite before you get another ready; wait for everyone at the table is finished eating before asking to leave the table; don’t chew with your mouth open. From my spouse’s family: if you want some more of something you ask, “Would anyone like some more ___?” From my own family’s table: “Don’t kick your brother (sister) under the table.”

SuperMouse's avatar

First and foremost, napkin always on my lap. To this day I feel naked at a meal if I do not have a napkin on my lap. Knife in right hand fork in right, do not switch from left to right when bringing the food to one’s mouth. No eating with your hands, reaching across someone else for something, burping, or shouting at the table. Do not hold a fork like a shovel, hold all utensils correctly. Use utensils for what they are meant for starting from the outside utensil and working in. Chew with your mouth closed. After a meal is finished place the utensils at 3:00 on the plate with the napkin on top. No slurping through a straw.

When I was in my early 20’s my high falutin boss at a bank invited me to a hoity-toity event for his rotary club. I sat down at the table, put my napkin in my lap and knew exactly how to handle myself. I watched as people twice my age broke all of the etiquette rules I had been taught. I went home and called my dad to thank him for taking the time to teach me table manners.

gondwanalon's avatar

We very rarely ate at the table as a family so it was generally anything goes. Once a year we would eat Thanksgiving dinner at my Uncle’s house were I was always on my best behavior. I knew how to behave from my experience with the Boy Scouts where I was taught proper eating mannerisms as well as always say sir, ma’am, please and thank you. I could play the role of a good kid when I had to

Symbeline's avatar

All the normal stuff really, nothing special. Don’t eat with your elbows on the table, don’t talk with your mouth full…I’ll take this opportunity to rant, though. When I was a kid living with my mom, she had this one thing…you can’t talk during dinner. If I said anything she’d start yelling at me, saying that she wanted to have dinner in peace and silence. However, that never happened, because her and her boyfriend would always talk. It was just me who wasn’t allowed. damn scumbag

When I moved with my dad it was awesome though. We’d talk during dinner, you know, like normal people do. The living room and dining room were pretty much the same thing, so we could watch TV if we wanted to. Plus there were no manners, people could burp, eat however they wanted, whatever. As long as, of course, I didn’t make a mess or exaggerate. That’s not to say I turned out to be a complete slob. I know my table manners, it was pretty cool how my dad taught me stuff, by not imposing anything on me. No bars held when I’m alone though, I eat like a freakin’ cannibal. But otherwise man, I know how to be the picture of perfection so good that I might as well flip my fork over when I’m using it. XD

OpryLeigh's avatar

The only real rules remember was, when we had finished our meal we had to ask to leave the table, we couldn’t just leave. I can’t remember when the rule stopped but I no longer ask to leave the table when I’m eating with family and I don’t think it’s expected of me.

We were never told off for having elbows on the table.

downtide's avatar

I’m completely amazed that people hold the fork in their left hand to cut, then switch it over to the right hand to eat. Why can’t you just eat from the fork in your left hand? That’s what we all do here.

bookish1's avatar

@downtide: maybe it was one of those early American republic things that were cultivated to differentiate us from British culture… it does seem like a waste of time! Although I can’t eat with my left hand because it is ritually unclean!

ragingloli's avatar

I always hold the fork in the right hand and cut with the left.

Brian1946's avatar

Whenever my family got into attention-consuming debates about which hand to use for whatever utensil, the meal would escape. ;-o

downtide's avatar

My daughter is ambidextrous and she holds her knife and fork in whichever hand she feels most comfortable at that particular time. She will often switch them halfway through a meal.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I was taught strict table manners by my grandmother, and more relaxed ones by my mother.

Grandmother’s rules:
No smacking
No talking while chewing
“Please pass the” is a must, never reach
Only cut one bite of your food at a time, eat it, then cut another bite
When both hands are not necessary, keep one hand in your lap
Do not rest your hands or arms on the table
Sit up straight
Do not slurp your soup
Do not lean into the table

My mother’s rules:
no smacking
no talking while chewing
try to not reach for things, unless everyone else is already occupied

I typically still use all of my grandmother’s rules while eating in public, because there was a period of time where she was taking me to fancy teas and I became accustomed to acting the proper lady. At home, or at my mom’s or mother-in-law’s house, we’re all very relaxed.

flutherother's avatar

No going to the toilet half way through the meal.

Eat your meat potatoes and vegetables together, not separately.

Clear your plate or there will be no pudding.

Don’t wave your fork in the air (you could put someone’s eye out).

dabbler's avatar

Use your napkin.
Chew with your mouth closed.

ucme's avatar

That if I must lick my plate clean, then I should wipe my nose/mouth with a napkin, not granny’s cat…..most unbecoming.

Aethelflaed's avatar

All of the regular stuff people have mentioned above, but then others. Like, it’s not just napkin on lap, it’s napkin on lap within 5 seconds of sitting down, because you’re a lady. Ladle soup in your spoon away from you, not towards you. Napkins go on your chair if you’re just getting up temporarily (like for the restroom), but on the table if you’re finished with your meal. All utensils have a proper setting place, even if there’s 15 of them. You signal you’re done eating by placing all utensils at 3 o’clock. No one eats until the hostess takes the first bite, or if you’re at a restaurant, the wife of the man who’s buying. (Lol @ dinner not being bought by a man with a wife.) You pass everything to the right, even if it’s shorter to pass to the left, but you clear the table from the left. There are few horrors in life greater than having farted or burped at the table, except maybe having done that and not promptly blushed and exclaimed “excuse me!”.

jca's avatar

Another thing I see often and I don’t know why people do this is when they put the fork in their left hand to cut with the right, they hold the fork with all four fingers around the handle and thumb on top, and fork is perpendicular to the plate. Has no one ever taught them that when the fork is held in the left hand, it’s not held that way? I think people that hold it the way I described look primitive.

Bellatrix's avatar

In addition to the many things mentioned above, no chicken wings. Keep your elbows close to your body. Don’t slurp when drinking.

bookish1's avatar

@Bellatrix: Don’t eat chicken wings at the table? O_o

Bellatrix's avatar

Lol my dad used to say “put your chicken wings away”. When little kids are learning to eat with a knife and fork, they will often stick their elbows out to the side jabbing whoever is sitting next to them. We soon learned to keep our elbows close to our sides when we ate.

linguaphile's avatar

Funny, I was complimented on my table manners last night!!

The sweet old lady I was having dinner with was absolutely shocked that someone actually still cared about and used table manners. I told her my mom had been crazy-strict about manners, to the point of stabbing elbows on the table with a fork. My mom still stabs elbows and stares long and hard at anyone smacking. It took her forever to give up on the ex who sounded like a barnyard when he ate.

She talked about how her parents (has to be back in the ‘40’s, she’s over 80 now) expected exemplary table manners from their kids and explained how disappointed she was at having to give up on expecting table manners from anyone. What surprised me is, she said it in front of her grandchildren, one who has the absolutely worst manners I’ve ever seen in my life, and none of them processed what she was saying.

In addition to what others said above, I wasn’t allowed to ever hold my utensils with a fisted grip—and horrors if it was an upsidedown one!!- always had to be an index-finger-forward, palms down clasp.

jca's avatar

@linguaphile: “Fisted grip” – that’s what I meant when I described how some hold their forks when cutting with the knife. I don’t get where people think that’s the way to do it!

josie's avatar

@bookish1
“Don’t eat until everybody is served.” I find that a LOT of Americans do this, and it really bothers me !
But why would that bother you? If you don’t think it is a custom worth respecting, just ignore it. Then they will be the ones that may or may not be bothered.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@downtide I do the same as your daughter with my knife and fork!

bookish1's avatar

@josie: Maybe I stated that badly. What I meant was, a lot of Americans “neglect to do this.” It really bothers me when I am eating with a group at table (especially when I have cooked, I will admit, which I do for people quite often), and people start eating whenever they feel like it or as soon as they are served, instead of when everyone is seated and ready to eat.

josie's avatar

@bookish1 I don’t like it either

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