Not too long ago I stumbled across an interesting and extremely useful website titled Etiquette Scholar. In looking it over, I couldn’t help but think it would be especially appropriate for anyone unsure about table etiquette when traveling abroad, attending a business luncheon or dinner, or even when attending a holiday gathering (tis’ the season to be jolly, you know). I was also impressed at how the site shared the proper techniques for eating just about everything — from artichokes to watermelon! Having had my tongue once pierced by an artichoke spine, I do welcome instructions like this.
This site also reminded me of one of my pet peeves. But first, let me just put this out there — I am not an etiquette snob, despite the fact that I am constantly surprised by the lack of table manners in many adults and children. Yet no where is the absence of manners more noticeable than when it comes to the lack of, or the improper use of napkins.
I love napkins, and I’m a huge sucker for the many gorgeous styles and colors they come in, primarily because I think they help make the dining experience considerably more festive. I especially like to use bold-colored napkins when I’m eating plain looking foods such as oatmeal or toast. I use different types, too — from large, decorative cloth ones to beautifully printed paper squares. I do, however (contrary to my husband’s belief), occasionally demonstrate a frugal side, too, so when I buy napkins from the discount stores, I usually go for the cheap white paper ones. Note that I refuse to buy the cutesy prints with pink bows or blue kittens, and yearn for the day when the manufacturers up their game on these.
Anyway, I’m not writing this to argue the virtues of cloth versus paper napkins, or (shudder) the use of paper towels as napkins. I actually grew up using those (sorry, Mother). What I am talking about is simply taking the proper measures to protect one’s clothes, the fabric on the seats of their dining room chairs, couch cushions, and car seats. I mean, seriously, this is a big deal! Don’t people want to protect their things? Don’t they grow tired of sending their mate or their kids out the door with grease spots all down the fronts of their shirts and pants?
Many years ago when we lived in Kansas City, we had an 8 year old nephew visiting us for 2 weeks during the summer. Throughout his stay, my husband and I felt compelled to break him of the habit of using his pants and shirt sleeves as napkins. Oily food required the pants legs, whereas milk and other beverages coating his upper lip required a swipe across a shirt sleeve. And, yes, there was also the finger licking habit to deal with, but at least fingers are more easily washed. It took us the entire 2 weeks, but we finally accomplished our goal of having him use a napkin, place it into his lap between wipes, and NOT wad it up on the table.
At the end of his stay, we drove 5 hours to the Arkansas border to meet up with his parents so we could return him to their care — all properly trained in napkin etiquette, mind you. We watched proudly as he lifted his napkin by its corners high up into the air, then with a quick flick of his wrists he released it so that it fell gracefully upon his lap. My husband and I both beamed, but also had to try very hard not to laugh at his theatrics. Receiving only quick glances from his parents, we noticed he was obviously very disappointed that they didn’t say anything. To remedy this, after each successive bite he ceremoniously dabbed the corners of his mouth, then he would again flick the napkin into the air and let it fall back down again upon his lap.
Finally, his dad couldn’t stand it anymore and said, “What’s up with that napkin stuff, son! Hell, we didn’t raise you to act like that! Looks like we’re gonna have to get you on home for some deprogrammin’!”