My dictionary (which, I admit, runs to more than one volume) devotes 7″ of small writing to the definition of the word ‘manners’. Explanations include “the modes of life, rules of behaviour, conditions of society prevailing in people”; “good customs or way of living”; “polite behaviour or deportment, habits indicating good breeding”; “forms of politeness or respect”.
The Wartime Housewife is extremely keen on good manners and the definition that I believe to be the most important of those above is “…politeness and respect”. We hear a great deal from young people about their constant demand for ‘respect’ and yet in many ways it appears to me that it is an inherent lack of respect for themselves which leads them to wish to fill that void with their perception of received respect from others.
Manners are there to make ourselves and others feel comfortable, they say loud and clear ‘I care about you’. If you know how to behave in any given situation, you will never feel inferior or out of your depth. It is therefore imperative that we instil table manners and courtesy into young people at the earliest opportunity so that it becomes second nature and they need never feel unequal because they don’t know which knife and fork to use.
A friend of mine was having dinner with a family recently and she is a rather slow eater. She was utterly mortified when the other people at the table got up as soon as they had finished and left her, still eating at the table. They took their plates out, brought in their puddings, one of which was placed beside her, and proceeded to tuck in. The senior member of the household joked “I suppose the polite thing to do would have been for us all to wait, but there you go”. My friend felt embarrassed, unregarded and thoroughly ‘disrespected’. It changed how she felt about the people she was visiting.
Let’s start with table manners and I suppose, in this day and age, we have to start by suggesting that we sit down at the table in the first place and not slouch with a plate on our knees in front of the television. Mealtimes are very important family time. Time to talk, share the day, communicate. This is where manners are learned, listening and speaking are learned, appreciating the effort that has gone into preparing nourishing food. I’m not talking about high etiquette here, just simple rules about eating. I apologise to those of you who know all this, but I am constantly astonished by people who should know better, not knowing any better.
- Wait until everyone has been served before starting to eat
- Use your knife and fork at the same time and don’t hold your knife like a pen
- Do not slouch with your elbows on the table and keep them tucked in whilst eating
- Sit up straight – it is much easier to digest your food this way
- Chew your food with your mouth closed – no-one wants to see, or hear, your chewed up food
- Eat slowly, someone has taken time to cook. Take the time to appreciate it. Also, if you eat too fast, your brain doesn’t recognise quickly enough that you’re full and you end up eating much more than you need
- Take smaller mouthfuls so that if anyone speaks to you, you can swallow quickly and answer
- Don’t lean across people to get to the butter or the gravy boat. Ask your neighbour to pass it to you
- Try to be aware of people’s needs. If your neighbour’s glass is empty, ask them if they would like it refilled and so on
- Leave your plate tidy. If you can’t finish your food, push it neatly to the side of your plate
- When you have finished eating, lay your knife and fork (or spoon and fork) together in the ‘half past six’ position. This is a clear indication that you have finished
- Wait until everyone has finished before clearing the plates
- Children should always ask to leave the table and ask to ‘be excused’ if they need the lavatory
- Always say thank you to the cook
These are not difficult rules and make the business of eating much more civilised and pleasant for everyone. If anyone has any that are important to their family, do let us know, or if I have forgotten anything vital!
With regard to courtesy in general, imagine how you would like to be treated yourself. There are hundreds of ways in which we can be courteous every day so grab the opportunity with both hands. Don’t get tied up with whether a man or a woman should open a door for you, give up their seat or walk on the outside.
- Always hold the door for the person behind you and smile and say
thank you when someone does it for you.
- Thank drivers who stop at zebra crossings – raise your hand and
- If you behave like a prat in your car, raise your hand in apology (although there is a problem that whilst there are many ways to show anger and frustration, there is no acknowledged gesture for ‘Sorry’. Suggestions please!)
- Say sorry if you bump into someone, even if it’s not your fault
- Give up your seat on the bus to someone who appears to need it. If they give you a mouthful, who cares?
- If someone is obviously in a desperate hurry at the checkout and you are not, let them go first
- Smile and say thank you if someone is courteous to you
- Tell people they look nice if they’ve clearly made an effort and smile and say thank you if someone pays you a compliment
- Always write thank you notes for presents or hospitality or why should anyone offer them again?
The list is endless, but this is just a few to get you going. I would be very pleased to receive your suggestions or experiences on this topic. I leave you with a few quotes.
To have respect for ourselves guides our morals; and to have a deference for others governs our manners.
Lawrence Sterne Irish novelist & satirist (1713 – 1768)
Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.
Clarence Thomas US administrator & lawyer (1948 – )
Manners maketh man.
William of Wykeham (1324 – 1404), Motto of Winchester College and New College, Oxford
NOTE: Please forgive any formatting errors with bullet points etc. Every time I thought I’d sorted it, a line or a paragraph would shimmy across the page in defiance of my instructions. I apologise for any distress this may have caused you.