Table and other manners; class differences

I was struck today, whilst having lunch, about the difficulty, when moving to a foreign country, of knowing the correct/polite manners.

When I was a child, my parents were all about manners, particularly at the table. So, the fork was always used with the prongs facing down; elbows were not allowed on the table (at least whilst actually eating); one did NOT cut biscuits (which, for some strange reason is FUN for children); one did not, in polite company – pick up the bones and chew off the meat or mop up the gravy with bread.

I know these things and, whilst I may do them at home without the benefit of company, I certainly do not do them when I am at other peoples’ houses or in restaurants.

>But here, I do not know what is polite and well-mannered and what is not. So today we had pork chops for lunch. My colleague next to me, after getting as much meat as possible off the bone, picked it up to chew the rest off. Was this bad mannered or not? I cannot ask, can I? There are some things that I could not possibly do and this is one of them, even if I enjoy being able to do that in the confines of my own home.

Mopping up the gravy is another I have seen many, many times before – at peoples’ houses; restaurants; the canteen and, since I have been here I have, very occasionally, done it myself. But, is it right?

The colleague I mentioned above is from the South of Italy and, as we all know, they are terrone (I suppose our equivalent would be ‘country bumpkins’ – people who really don’t know any better). But, surely there are people from the South who have had a very good upbringing? Do they pick up the bone and chew off the meat? Do they tuck their napkin in at the neck when eating pasta? Just what ARE good table manners?

Travelling to and living in another country when you are older is fraught with obstacles and trials but, because you are older, there are no parents to advise you as to what is right or wrong. After all, it is considered polite NOT to tell someone their faults, especially when it comes to manners.

If anyone has the answers, let me know.

9 thoughts on “Table and other manners; class differences

  1. “My colleague next to me, after getting as much meat as possible off the bone, picked it up to chew the rest off”

    Andy, that’s VERY bad manner! It has nothing to do with “national” table manners, it’s just a lack of education. I’ve been never allowed to pick up the bones!

    Table manners have always been important in my family but I do not think it’s because I am from the North. It’s just because my parents pay attention to education in a broad sense and I am sure I share the same approach.

    My advice would be to eat as you do in the UK. There are no cultural differences, only good and bad education ;)

  2. Bianca,

    Thank you so much for your reply. As I have seen so many people do it here, I thought perhaps it was acceptable. It’s nice to know that my manners from the UK are applicable over here too!

    There are, in any event, some things I could never do and picking up a bone and chewing the meat from it, when in company, is one of them.

    As you say – only good or bad education! :-)

  3. Hi Andy –

    Good or bad education? I think it is more cultural. I am very educated and our family and culture is very okay with picking up the piece of chicken or pork bone. I must admit, I, personally would not do that while out in a restaurant. And it would depend on the closeness of the relationship with a friend to determine if I would be comfortable doing that at their dinner table. My Dad? Wouldn’t give it a second thought – :-) He would clean the bones. As I write about this it all sounds quite disgusting actually. :-) Heehee
    Love from across the pond

  4. Ah ah ah! People at lunch is always funny. Sometimes I also perform the things you described, but I try to avoid it in the canteen…Or, if I cannot resist, I inform my collegues about my idea…using bread to clean the dishes is different: if you really like the sausage (or you are hungry and you have only that) it is hard to stop! I’ve noticed your behaviour, you are always “right”, like a perfect “english gentlemen”. I envy you…

  5. Hi Gail,
    Well, I think it’s both – culture and then manners depending on the culture. I mean, in near-asian culture, I believe it is normal to eat with your right hand from a common bowl. I guess there are peculiarities which determine good manners from bad and that’s where the ‘teaching’ by parents comes in. Certainly in the UK it is considered very bad manners to pick up the bone and chew the meat from it although, in Elizabethan times (that Golden Age that we British always aspire to) eating meat from the bone was good manners.

    Hi Pietro,
    For us, using bread to ‘clean the plate’ is also seen as bad manners, I’m afraid. Thanks for noticing my behaviour – not that I was fishing for compliments here and, as for the English Gentleman bit, very nice but I’m not so sure it’s true. Certainly don’t envy me. Being an English Gentleman comes with quite a bit of baggage (emotional and manner-wise) as well, you know……

    • I’ve always been taught that using bread to mop a sauce is not bad manners. The chef applies so much sauce/juice that he expects you to do it. It is a compliment to whoever made the dish, that the sauce was so wonderful, you don’t want it to go to waste. Cleaning the plate may be another matter, but just to get another taste of a great sauce is acceptable where I’ve been taught. And actually, to leave a sauce could be disrespectful to the preparer.

      • Hi TB. I think it depends on where you’re from and, certainly in the case of the UK, the class of your parents. At home, with just the family, it was perfectly acceptable to mop up the sauce. It was just not done outside the home. Manners are strange anyway, to be honest and, in any event, have changed a lot over the centuries. Just a lot of stupid rules, I guess.
        Thanks for dropping by.

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