are older than the table itself. They reveal and say about us more than we care
Having lunch together is
certainly the most intimate moment that people can share with each - besides
sex. Just try to remember how many bans, rules and norms of behavior there are about
When speaking about table
manners, they appear similar in all cultures. If you are not sure of how to
behave at the table, you are a stranger, outsider, someone who is not the same
as others. You differ in your origin, education, age, culture or social status.
Not being familiar with the rules is the universal sign that you do not belong
The more closed, isolated
or exclusive a society is, the rules tend to be stricter and apparently unalterable.
Obsession with the rules is so strong that it resulted
with publishing a large number of manuals about proper table manners.
art/skill can never be completely perfected, regardless whether you travel to
some foreign country not being familiar with its culture, or you are invited to
some diplomatic event where a queen and princes will be present. It's not easy
to know for sure what exactly to do. Once the plates in front of you are surrounded
with an army of knives, forks, and sets of glasses, you can become quite
uncertain about what they all actually serve for. Various manuals will scare
you that using the wrong fork is as rude and insulting as if you spitted on the
floor. At the end, so as to calm you down, they will give you the most important
piece of advice saying: observe what others are doing.
Table manners are older
than the table itself. Who is the first to scoop from the common pot? Who is
the first to do this, who is the first to do that? Who sits where? Who is the head
of the house, court, restaurant, canteen...? Where does a woman sit, if she is
allowed to sit at all?
And children? In strict
hierarchical and patriarchal societies children are ranked in importance after
women. They shouldn't even be sitting at the table. They should stand by the
table and wait, patiently and silently, to get some food. Even today some
restaurants advertise child friendly attitudes and menues very close to restaurants
which allow entry to dogs.
The story about fork and
We are advised
against eating with our fingers (apart from fruit, cheese, etc), while more
than a third of mankind still eats with their fingers.
What once was rude and forbidden
today is normal and polite. Let's just remember the story about fork, an
everyday object on the table, without which we cannot imagine lunch. The fork
was first mentioned in Europe in times when a Byzantine princess who married a
Venetian doge in the 11th century brought a set of forks with her and offended
the cultural Venetians who ate with fingers "as God commands". She rudely
refused to eat with her fingers.
The rest of Europe considered fork a devil's tool. Even educated
Hildegarde from Bingen stood against the fork and those who anger God by using
this utensil. If God had predicted his children to use a fork, he wouldn't have
given them fingers in the first place. Up to the 17th century fork represented
something insulting, impolite and heretic, everywhere except in Italy.
Various manuals will scare
you that taking the wrong fork is so annoying and insulting as if you spitted
on the floor.
In the middle of the 16th
century Henry III ordered using a fork at the French court. He was most
probably influenced by his mother Catherine Medici. "A king who eats with a
fork", as they used to call him, was murdered with a - knife.
Back in those times it was
polite to have your own knife and cut meat and prick it on a fork and bring it
to your mouth. Only the aristocratic tables offered a few knives for all the
guests to share. And one has to admit that it takes a lot of trust in neighbors
to share a knife with them. In 1669 Louis XIV forbade using sharp knives at the
table so as to prevent violence.
Once it was not polite to return
the chewed bones back to the plate, but it was polite to throw them on the
What is forbidden and
impolite for us, somewhere in the world can be polite and desirable. But, there
is nothing worse than making sounds during lunch, it is written in all etiquette
manuals. Chewing, champing, slurping, crunching with a knife on the plate are
worst transgressions at the table. In Japan, however, slurping soup is considered
well-mannered and desirable.