Table Talk: do we still respect table manners?

"Elbows off the table”, “don’t eat with your mouth full” and “no burping at the table” are just some of the arduous reminders that most people growing up will be familiar with. They may seem silly and pointless, but manners do matter and it is shocking at times that many people seem to have navigated […]

Catherine Entwistle
4th November 2019
Image: Flickr CCO Public Domain
"Elbows off the table”, “don’t eat with your mouth full” and “no burping at the table” are just some of the arduous reminders that most people growing up will be familiar with. They may seem silly and pointless, but manners do matter and it is shocking at times that many people seem to have navigated life without them.

Even at the age of twenty-three, I must admit I very much appreciate table manners and politeness. That’s not to say I am some sort of prude – quite the opposite. But growing up, manners were always hugely important in my family, and it is only as I’ve grown up and worked with other people in a variety of jobs as well as lived away from home with other students that the importance of manners has become abundantly clear to me. They are not costly yet they are worth their weight in gold when it comes to showing respect to others as well as earning their respect in return.

It would seem that in this modern age, parents are getting worse and worse at disciplining their children. Take a look around any family-friendly restaurant and it would appear that the war on table manners is yet to be fought. I have witnessed children standing on a table in a restaurant before, to which the majority of other punters as well as the manager responded with immediate horror. Often it seems that parents find a way of avoiding responsibility and rarely do you see parents telling off their children in public. Is this for fear of what people might say in today’s judgemental society? Perhaps so, but having worked in hospitality myself for many years, I can confirm that table manners and general politeness is always rewarded with a friendlier, more generous service from staff.

Where table manners, and manners in general, don’t exist, children will have no exemplar to learn from.

It is refreshing that eating out has become a more accessible and relaxed pastime. With this relaxation of mealtimes comes a relaxation of the rules however. Children don’t see going out to eat as a treat and so consider the experience as an everyday service. Food gets thrown, Ipads and phones rule, and conversation and cutlery is, at best, optional. Many children now don’t understand how to sit patiently and wait, thanks to the constant need for engagement with technology. The blame can’t all be shifted onto the children however, for the parents must lead by example. Where table manners, and manners in general, don’t exist, children will have no exemplar to learn from.

 

There are some parents out there who admit that disciplining children at the dinner table is become increasingly more difficult. The fast pace of modern life means that meal times are often rushed. The increase in takeaway food (an easy option when time is limited) means more eating with fingers, and less sitting around a table. The importance of sitting around a table to eat a meal as a family has declined, meaning there are less opportunities to monitor manners.

How well we are able to interact with other people is key to future success, whether that be being polite to somebody on public transport, or knowing how to conduct yourself in an important job interview.

When we look at the bigger picture in the current climate of worldwide poverty, war and social unrest, I think it’s important to take a realistic approach to table manners. In some cultures, burping after a meal is a sign of respect. Whereas ‘elbows off the table’ is a very British thing, which shows that there really isn’t one set of steadfast rules. What’s more important is that we maintain civility and respect in social situations as we go through life. Sometimes, all you want to do after a long day is curl up on the sofa and order a takeaway and that’s fine. The key message here is that, as social animals, manners make up part of our set of social skills and it's these skills which carry us through life. How well we are able to interact with other people is key to future success, whether that be being polite to somebody on public transport, or knowing how to conduct yourself in an important job interview.

 

There is a famous quote that states: “good manners will open doors that the best education cannot”. Manners extend farther than the dinner table, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

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