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View Full Version : Extend Your Pinky: The Thread of Eating Etiquette


BodhiTraveller
01-23-2010, 11:36 AM
This is spawned from the picky eating thread wherein it was written:

What you should do is eat enough to be polite, but leave some on the plate. If you polish them off, the implication is that you want more. If you leave some, hey, you're full.

I grew up in an Irish/Whitey American family in Southern California, and I was taught to eat everything on my plate, as that was the polite thing to do. I encountered the whole "a clean plate means you want more and I would be remiss as a host to not give you more" thing for the first time and only time when eating with a friend's family and it ended with me feeling full and gross in an attempt to be polite.

So I ask you, Talking Time, is it polite to eat everything on the plate, or is it proper to leave a bit? Please indicate where you grew up and a bit of your background for possible analytical rigor.

Lucas
01-23-2010, 12:08 PM
I was raised to eat everything. I grew up in northern Southern California, from a relatively poor family; we always had enough to eat, but it was close sometimes. The general idea was that you should take small servings and eat everything you take, since you could always go back for more but couldn't put back what was on your plate and half-eaten (an attitude that supposedly came from my grandfather's experience in the Navy).

Even now I feel really guilty if I have to throw any food away, or even just leave a lot of crumbs on my plate or in the pan.

Dadgum Roi
01-23-2010, 12:33 PM
So I ask you, Talking Time, is it polite to eat everything on the plate, or is it proper to leave a bit? Please indicate where you grew up and a bit of your background for possible analytical rigor.

Depends on the situation. I use the "leave a bit" gambit when I encounter an irresistible force like my grandmother.

DemoWeasel
01-23-2010, 12:35 PM
I was always told not to put my elbows on the table or offer other people at the table food from my plate.

Dadgum Roi
01-23-2010, 12:55 PM
I was always told not to put my elbows on the table or offer other people at the table food from my plate.

Yeah, elbows were a big no-no. Also...fork in non-dominant hand, knife in dominant hand, no switching and plate-banging. Place setting had to be forks on left side of plate on top of napkin, knives on innermost right side, spoons on outermost right side, glass on upper right side. Penalty for violation: death.

Ethan
01-23-2010, 12:59 PM
My father is Chinese and my mother is an urban Jew, so I was raised in a pragmatic household where table gestures were nigh-meaningless and any questions about what we liked or disliked, what we wanted more of, what we wanted to steal from someone else's haul, or our level of fullness were just asked straight-up. I still don't understand things like the elbow rule, the reason for having two forks, or which hand is supposed to hold what utensil in what situation. Just about the only rule we had was to not use our hands, but even that wasn't upheld very strictly.

BodhiTraveller
01-23-2010, 01:01 PM
Also...fork in non-dominant hand, knife in dominant hand, no switching

I heard some British comedian point out that this was something that puzzled him about Americans: that most Americans switch the fork to the dominant hand to eat, while the non-dominant hand is perfectly good for such things.

Something that I picked up from my grandparents, though not my parents, and now hold fast to: not beginning to eat until everyone at a meal is sitting and has food to eat.

Ethan
01-23-2010, 01:03 PM
not beginning to eat until everyone at a meal is sitting and has food to eat.

Oh... I guess we did have this.

Marfy
01-23-2010, 01:09 PM
I grew up hearing horror stories about my maternal grandmother sticking forks in people's elbows if they put them on the table, and seeing the scars on my mother and uncle's elbows. I think I nearly got the treatment myself a few times as a child, but my mother (in one of her few maternal moments) saved me.

I make a point to put my elbows on the table any time I can now.
Just not around my grandmother.


Also, I can't breathe through my nose very well, and as a child I used to chew with my mouth open to compensate. Until I got threatened with "the belt" one too many times at an extremely Southern childhood best friend's house, that is. Now the sound grosses me out so much that it makes me nauseous.

Dadgum Roi
01-23-2010, 01:16 PM
the reason for having two forks,

Salad fork, dinner fork, dessert fork. So that your dinner doesn't taste like salad and your dessert doesn't taste like dinner.

Bergasa
01-23-2010, 01:17 PM
that most Americans switch the fork to the dominant hand to eat it, while the non-dominant hand is perfectly good for such things.

I hold the fork in my dominant hand. When I screwed up my wrist last year, I had to switch over to my non-dominant hand, and it was terrible. I could scarcely keep the food in it on the way to my mouth (peas were impossible).

NevznachaY
01-23-2010, 01:38 PM
"Когда я ем, я глух и нем". (It rhymes).

"I'm deaf and dumb while I'm eating".

A phrase they used to use a lot at schools and in summer camps in the Soviet era.

NevznachaY
01-23-2010, 01:40 PM
Salad fork, dinner fork, dessert fork. So that your dinner doesn't taste like salad and your dessert doesn't taste like dinner.

I like your unwillingness to compromise on manners very much.

I hold the fork in my dominant hand. When I screwed up my wrist last year, I had to switch over to my non-dominant hand, and it was terrible. I could scarcely keep the food in it on the way to my mouth (peas were impossible).

I'm a lefty and I have no problem holding a fork or a spoon in my right hand. It's easy - all it takes to learn is a couple of days.

gamin
01-23-2010, 01:48 PM
Table manners are the most ridiculous things and I'm glad I didn't grow up in a household that cared. As long as people aren't making an incredible amount of noise in their eating, and are not wasteful, I do not care how they do it.

Lucas
01-23-2010, 02:34 PM
Also...fork in non-dominant hand, knife in dominant hand, no switching and plate-banging. Place setting had to be forks on left side of plate on top of napkin, knives on innermost right side, spoons on outermost right side, glass on upper right side. Penalty for violation: death.

Just out of curiosity, did you actually switch the place settings for left-handed people?

Dadgum Roi
01-23-2010, 03:16 PM
Just out of curiosity, did you actually switch the place settings for left-handed people?

No, it would fuck up the appearance of the table.

Wolfgang
01-23-2010, 03:27 PM
This thread makes me extremely appreciative that, for whatever our faults, my family was more-or-less laid back about strict etiquette and has made me a more laid-back, accepting person as a result.

What galls me is when people get offended at someone else breaching what they see as "acceptable", especially in a non-immediate-family situation - you have no idea what kind of standards someone was raised with, nor should it matter, as long as people aren't making disgusting noises/sights/messes. Things like not switching cutlery and whatnot. It doesn't matter, not in the slightest. (To me.)

Violentvixen
01-23-2010, 03:32 PM
Living alone and not being able to afford to eat out much for three years destroyed my manners. I just didn't use them and have forgotten tons of things. I really regret it as I used to be damn good.

not beginning to eat until everyone at a meal is sitting and has food to eat.

This one never gets violated. I think I've gotten mad at friends in restaurants about it.

I have a twist on the elbow rule: It is okay in my family when there is no food on the table. Like if you're at a restaurant you can have your elbows on the table until the bread arrives. One of my boyfriends was horrified by this as he felt elbows should never be on the table at all. How do you guys do this?

gamin
01-23-2010, 03:36 PM
I don't understand this whole elbow thing. Why is it a thing? Are people worried you might be putting your elbow in your plate or in your food? Please enlighten me.

Dadgum Roi
01-23-2010, 03:41 PM
What galls me is when people get offended at someone else breaching what they see as "acceptable", especially in a non-immediate-family situation - you have no idea what kind of standards someone was raised with, nor should it matter, as long as people aren't making disgusting noises/sights/messes. Things like not switching cutlery and whatnot. It doesn't matter, not in the slightest. (To me.)

Different standards doesn't bother me up to a point, it's lack of standards that irks. Switching cutlery is kind of annoying because of the noise, though.

dangerhelvetica
01-23-2010, 04:50 PM
I usually completely cut up my meat before eating to avoid utensil switchery. I've been told it's weird.

Dawnswalker
01-23-2010, 05:11 PM
As clean a plate as possible is polite, but then again, I don't think I've ever had a situation where someone piled more food on without at least asking (or otherwise giving me some warning) first.

Rosewood
01-23-2010, 05:37 PM
At home, we had to eat what was on our plates before we could have dessert. Meat and veggies were mandatory; starch was optional. The table was set with a fork on the left-hand side and knife and spoon on the right (from the plate outwards). We got new forks or spoons for dessert. Everyone had to be at the table with food on their plates before the first person took a bite. You had to say "excuse me" after you belched! No big deal was made about elbows.

I'm mildly unusual in that I hold the fork and write with my left hand, and use scissors and play sports--and use a cutting knife--with the right. I don't swap hands for anything while eating. I suppose it could be argued that swapping hands keeps you from gobbling.

Dadgum Roi
01-23-2010, 05:51 PM
My wife lived in New England briefly and said that people blow their noses at the table. I am pretty sure that my head would explode if I were witness to this.

Balrog
01-23-2010, 06:31 PM
I usually completely cut up my meat before eating to avoid utensil switchery.
I do that!
I've been told it's weird.

Because it is.

Brickroad
01-23-2010, 07:29 PM
I eat everything through a giant funnel.

No but seriously, I don't have any formal manners outside of "try not to make a complete pig out of yourself in front of the company". I've never been yelled at for eating dinner wrong so I guess it's been working out pretty well for me.

I'm pretty sure if anyone ever stabbed me in the elbow with a fork I would immediately stab them back, grandma or no.

Lumber Baron
01-24-2010, 12:13 AM
Also...fork in non-dominant hand, knife in dominant hand, no switching
I think that's more of a European style. Which oddly seems to be the way most Americans eat in less than very formal settings.

Place setting had to be forks on left side of plate on top of napkin, knives on innermost right side, spoons on outermost right side, glass on upper right side.
For some reason, my family had the spoons on the inside on the right side when dining at home. I have no idea why that was the case. I will baselessly claim it's because my mother is Canadian.

Dadgum Roi
01-24-2010, 05:16 AM
I think that's more of a European style. Which oddly seems to be the way most Americans eat in less than very formal settings.

It's usually defined as European, but in my experience a lot of people in the South eat this way. The older women in my family all held that utensil switching was the Yankee way.

Lady
01-24-2010, 11:31 AM
After my mom got hurt and my older siblings moved out, we pretty much stopped eating at the table, so any table manners I've learned, I've learned since then.

I like having new forks for new courses because I hate mixing food, but I don't think I've been consistant once about which hands I hold cutlery with, and my elbows are perpetually on the tabletop.

Red Hedgehog
01-24-2010, 05:41 PM
Dinnertime was inviolate in my household. Everyone had to be at the table on time. Nothing except death or disaster would let anyone leave the table before everyone had finished their dinner.

It's usually defined as European, but in my experience a lot of people in the South eat this way. The older women in my family all held that utensil switching was the Yankee way.

Yeah, it's European. My father learned from his Eastern European Jewish parents who taught me. My oldest sister slightly scolds the rest of our family for eating that way.

Falselogic
01-27-2010, 03:09 PM
For those of you who don't understand etiquette or why its important, I hope you never get invited to a formal dinner... You'll never feel more inadequate or ashamed of yourself when all your peers know which fork is which and how to not make a fool of themselves at the table.

Etiquette isn't about being pompish or holier than though, it is about respecting the host(s), the other guests, and yourself. That was how my mother and grandmother always presented it to me. Most of it has been covered here. Better, it isn't that complicated and if you can memorize the enemy patterns for every enemy in Megaman 1-9 you can remember how to eat at the table without looking like a rube...

Ethan
01-27-2010, 04:50 PM
The problem isn't with memorizing a set of rules. The problem is with the expectation that everyone in this country was raised with a full understanding of a complex set of customs that are really only part of one cultural strain and that many Americans even the white, vaguely-European ones have simply never encountered in their whole life. This is a nation of immigrants with no real unifying culture, so if I go to someone's dinner event and they think me a fool for (essentially) not having grown up in their family, who's the fool then?

Dadgum Roi
01-27-2010, 04:54 PM
I think you are overestimating the degrees of difference. I went off to South America as a teenager and the table manners were largely the same. Honestly, I find that my sensibilities about etiquette click very well with the various Hispanics and Asians that we have a lot of here in NC. It's the white immigrants- the eastern Europeans and the northern transplants- that tend to have "issues" in this area.

Falselogic
01-27-2010, 04:57 PM
The problem isn't with memorizing a set of rules. The problem is with the expectation that everyone in this country was raised with a full understanding of a complex set of customs that are really only part of one cultural strain and that many Americans even the white, vaguely-European ones have simply never encountered in their whole life. This is a nation of immigrants with no real unifying culture, so if I go to someone's dinner event and they think me a fool for (essentially) not having grown up in their family, who's the fool then?

I'm not talking going over to a friends house for chow, I'm talking being invited to your bosses house, or at a formal dinner. Maybe you don't have to worry about this kind of thing where you work... But knowing dining etiquette has saved me from looking like an ass in front of potential employers and peers on more than one occasion

Sven
01-27-2010, 07:24 PM
For those of you who don't understand etiquette or why its important, I hope you never get invited to a formal dinner... You'll never feel more inadequate or ashamed of yourself when all your peers know which fork is which and how to not make a fool of themselves at the table.


I tend to eat at a lot of high-end restaurants and it's really not anything to worry yourself about. About the only thing that ever really baffled me was when we were at Canoe (http://www.oliverbonacini.com/canoemovie.html)just after it opened and the waiters dropped a quarter plate with a baby pear in front of each diner. It completely baffled not only my family, but the family across from us.

Generally, if you can handle yourself at a wedding you're fine in just about any restaurant in North America, since everyone's relaxed their standards. The fundraiser I was at last Saturday was black tie, but it's not as though the table was any more complicated than what you'd find at Red Lobster. Less so, in fact, as the wait staff did the always-welcome touch of bringing out course-appropriate silverware between courses (which is common in most high-end places these days). I always hate having everything hanging around, especially at longer dinners.

It's more embarrasing to be mystified by the food. Although that has its advantages - I got Kelly to try sweetbreads last time we were at Auberge (another OB Group restaurant, same link as Canoe) before I told her what they were.

Red Hedgehog
01-27-2010, 08:49 PM
It's more embarrasing to be mystified by the food. Although that has its advantages - I got Kelly to try sweetbreads last time we were at Auberge (another OB Group restaurant, same link as Canoe) before I told her what they were.

Ha! I did this with my date for the Junior prom. She was none too happy after dinner when I told her what they were.

Sven
01-28-2010, 09:16 AM
Ha! I did this with my date for the Junior prom. She was none too happy after dinner when I told her what they were.

The funny thing was that she'd actually watched the Iron Chef offal episode where Mike Symon made a similar dish, but didn't make the connection. But that has to be the greatest marketing name ever devised. SWEET! BREAD! VEAL THYMUS!

Unfortunately, just typing that gives me a craving for breaded and fried meat.

Nicholai
01-28-2010, 09:52 AM
The only etiquette I stick to is waiting for all the food to arrive or for everyone to have a full plate before eating. Elbows were a problem when I was younger, but gradually ceased to be important. To me, there is a big difference in being a "rube" which would entail eating with your mouth open, making strange noises, and being messy with not holding your fork in the appropriate hand which I find to be irrelevant. This all being said I know the "rules" I suppose and would attempt to conform if I were eating at someone's house who seemingly held to them. Conversely though if a big rule person were eating at my place I would hope they don't throw a fit when I use my fork in the wrong hand or don't some other such faux paus.

Ethan
01-28-2010, 10:05 AM
there is a big difference in being a "rube" which would entail eating with your mouth open, making strange noises, and being messy with not holding your fork in the appropriate hand which I find to be irrelevant.

This is important.

Using three forks and switching your fork to the dominant hand after cutting is cultural.

The desire to not be bombarded with sensory reminders of another person's mastication is universal.