“I eat my peas with honey.
I’ve done it all my life.
They do taste kind of funny.
But it keeps them on the knife”
Table manners are a major, if not the most revealing aspect of social grace.
When the table manners are in check, there’s little else to bother about in a person’s manners. With the increasing rate of social consciousness, particularly in the corporate world, it is safe to assume that you will receive an invitation to dine publicly at least once in a ‘working life time’- to close a business deal, for networking purposes, to commemorate an establishment, or more commonly, to celebrate weddings, birthdays, reunions and so on.
The table of nobles in this context is not a fast food counter where you display casual eating manners but, as the name implies, a place to show first class manners in wining and dining.
A formal situation where the important rules of dining are observed. Because there is so much more to table manners than knowing how to use a fork and knife, I have summarized key points below.
· When you are seated at the table of nobles, the first thing to do is to unfold the napkin placed in the platter before you and spread it evenly across your thighs.
This serves as a layer that protects your clothes from getting stained if or when food particles fall from the cutlery while it is being transported to your mouth. It is also used to dab the corners of the mouth after eating.
· The setting of a noble’s table may be complex such that you do not know which utensil is yours or your neighbour’s. Simply remember eat to your left, drink to your right.
· Since everyone at this table is a noble, there’s no competition, there’s no winner as there’s no loser. Dining is a simultaneous activity so you shouldn’t ‘shoot the gun’ by starting first while others are yet to be served, neither should still you be chomping away at your food after everyone is done.
· It is expected that you use the cutlery set before you appropriately those farthest from either side of your plate are usually for the appetizer, next are those for the main course and closest to the plate are those for desert.
It is unacceptable to eat with your hands when cutleries are available for this purpose. This is not a situation where you can pick the shaki with your hands from the plate because it’s too tough to be sliced through with the knife. This is a noble table. We’re talking class here.
· It is helpful to note that your hands/ elbows should not rest on the table while you are dining. Elbows should be suspended in the air while you use the fork and knife, (of course the knife is held on the right and the fork on the left). In a case where just one hand is doing the feeding, the other could be placed on the lap.
· Food in the mouth should be swallowed before the mouth is open, to speak or take in more food. Remember that this is such an exalted company and we do not want to be offensive by chewing with our mouth open, or do we?
· The table of nobles should be approached with a belly empty of food, full of ‘thank yous’ as you will need to give one away each time you are served something.
· It is not kindness to help by taking food from a neighbor who has had enough. This is as unwelcome as it is unmannerly.
At this level of formal dining, the rules get strict.
· This may be a noble table but our pride lies not in wasting food.
We are usually lured into this situation because we assign the responsibility of taste to our eyes and not our tongue. My advise always serve yourself a little ‘to taste’ (you might serve again if you think it’s delicious and everyone has had at least, a helping.
It is impolite to take the last portion of food. In very formal settings however, a second helping is distasteful). This way, if the food is more attractive than tasteful, you have less to worry about in consuming it which is a better option than force-feeding yourself with a huge portion of undesirable meal.
· As a noble, if you discover there is an unwanted material in the food as you chew, such as bones and stones, you should get rid of it as discreetly as possible and not spit it into a cutlery or plate where it is visible to others.
· Nobles always assume a straight spine and this is especially relevant at the dining table. This is because the food should be brought to you and not you stooping to table level to meet the food.
· Food particles will probably get caught in between your teeth and you may have a need to floss or pick your teeth. This is a private exercise and should be done when one is excused from the gathering.
Strict adherence to these laudable rules is highly encouraged if you do not want to upset other noble table members. Hold the fork, hold the knife and dine like a king.