Teaching Manners at the Table: Following in My Mother's Footsteps

Teaching Manners at the Table: Following in My Mother's Footsteps

Do manners matter? Well, yes, of course. White gloves may not be relevant in most circles these days, but a little courtesy never hurt anyone. I'm not sure where I got "White Gloves and Party Manners," because my mother wasn't terribly concerned with rules for situations that would likely never happen. (Her advice on complicated place settings: use the silverware from the outside in and, when in doubt, do whatever the oldest lady at the table does, because manners dictate that she's always right.) I teach my own children manners, constantly and without drama, just like my mother taught me.

When I was little, I read every word of that book, published years before I was born and an endless source of fascination for me. As an adult, I enjoy the heck out of etiquette columns and books by Emily Post, Miss Manners, et al. My mother thought it was an odd interest, but probably figured there were worse things, like heroin or sex. Her own approach to manners was much simpler.

At the table, she interjected quick corrections into the conversation without skipping a beat. "How was school today? Did you have to play dodge ball in P.E. again? (napkin-in-lap-please) Who'd you have lunch with?" Her brief instructions went almost unheard, but my napkin made its way to my lap. She left no room for discussion. My father was an equal participant. When we sat down to dinner, he thanked her for making it and expected us to do the same. When we excused ourselves from the table, we were expected to thank her again and tell her it was good. Our opinion on the quality of the meal was irrelevant. Positives adjectives were the only ones allowed to describe something she had taken the time to prepare for us.

I remember conversation and laughter during meals, even when our relationship away from the table wasn't at its best. I argued about a lot of things with my parents over the years, but table manners were never a bone of contention, possibly because they were presented in such a low key way. And my mother's rule about the oldest lady at the table still stands. I teach my own boys the same thing, though I have added that they should make an educated guess, rather than inquiring who she might be.

Did your parents offer any instruction at the table? If you have children, how are you teaching table manners?

(Images: Anne Postic)

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