I’ve just been pondering the pointlessness of much of what is termed “etiquette”. In particular I am rabidly anti-etiquette when it comes to dining out. This seems to be one area in which most people still follow – perhaps unconsciously – certain rules, learnt from a young age, that govern how you sit and eat a meal.
Let’s start by watching this short presentation on European vs American “dining styles”:
So what did you think of that? Obviously this woman is at last partly bonkers if she really thinks it necessary to observe all of these rules. Of course, common sense tells us it is most efficient to hold the knife and fork in a certain way (stupid bloody Yanks), but clearly you’d have to be insane to worry about whether the tines on your fork were correctly oriented at all times. Alot of what she says, however, is virtually hardwired into every one of us from a young age, and used unconsciously on a daily basis. This is what I am trying to change in my own little way. Here’s what I mean.
1) Napkin on your lap
I am sick of putting my napkin on my lap. It is totally pointless and I can see no reason for doing it. I never drop food onto my lap, because I lean slightly over my plate to eat. This itself is probably a gross deviation from accepted norms, but I don’t care. I keep my napkin on the table beside me. That way, I can wipe my mouth if necessary – always delicately and with pinky extended.
This leads me to the custom of the waiter placing the napkin on the diner’s lap before the start of the meal. Why it is believed that the diner is unable or unwilling to perform this minute physical exertion is beyond me, particularly when it involves a region of the body to which public access is typically restricted. Having to sit mute while a strange man lays a cloth delicately across my groin seems to me a flagrant violation of personal space at the very least.
2) No elbows on the table
This is an old chestnut, going way back to the family dinner table. Why this is considered rude I don’t know. My idea of a nice dinner out is to relax and be comfortable. I can’t be comfortable with my wrists resting on the table’s edge for two hours. I paid for it, so I’ll lean on it, thank you very much. My response to someone who says that putting an elbow on the table looks uncouth or boorish? Build a bridge and get over it.
3) Placement of knife and fork on plate
OK, I admit that I can see the advantage of a “signal” that tells the wait staff whether or not you have finished with your plate. For many years I carefully placed my knife and fork together at the end of the meal, even at home, where there was certainly nobody to come and gather my plate when I was done. But how about this: the waiter could ask, “Are you done, sir?” They still do this most of the time anway. We can speak, people! Let’s use the gift of verbal communication that millions of years of evolution has bestowed upon us! So this is one piece of dining etiquette I have dispensed with. May my knife and fork lay wherever they fall from my hands once the last morsel of food is in my mouth.
So, friends and fellow diners, these are my brief thoughts on dining etiquette. I believe all areas of daily life should be approached in this same open-minded way. Remember, if the only answer to the question “why am I doing this?” is “because that’s the way it’s done”, then that is not a good enough answer!