Etiquette Matters

Headshot of Cecilia Pita

By Cecilia Pita

Holding your fork and knife “continental style” ensures that you don’t appear to be stabbing or shovelling your food. Photo: Monstera from Pexels

Manners can return to the table this holiday season

I have a confession to make. Since the pandemic began, we’ve been enjoying most of our meals in front of the TV. At first, it was out of necessity, but over time, it became our new normal.

You see, like many people, our small dining table morphed overnight from a hub for eating and celebrating, to an office and classroom, and setting it up and clearing it every time we had to eat was tedious and frustrating.

After a few months of this, we thought the solution would be to get a larger table and use one end for working, and the other for eating. However, that didn’t work. All of our work and school things seemed to take on a life of their own, and inevitably took over the extra space.

Now, if you read my column regularly, you know that I promote table manners and their importance, as well as the benefits of gathering around a table to eat. So, not being able to do this was a huge deal for me. Although we previously shared the occasional pizza while watching a movie, eating pretty much every meal away from the table felt strange.

My family, however, welcomed the change. It was fun to eat while watching TV!

Eventually, I resigned myself to this and chalked it up to being yet another casualty of surviving the pandemic, but I had a feeling that I needed to ease us back to the table as soon as possible.

Since school started and with less clutter on the table, my family and I have started sharing meals back at the table and away from the big screen, à la pre-pandemic.

Would you believe we were out of practice when it came to our manners? I’m not sure I realized what the extent of the consequences of our living room dining would be. On some level I thought that it would be like riding a bike and a switch would flip. However, manners are different.

Having never experienced a blip like this before, the reality, I’ve learned, is that they’re a habit easily forgotten when not used and people are focused on a screen instead of each other.

Family meals are important for many reasons. Without the distraction of screens, we can take a break from our day, enjoy conversation and connect. We gain insights into our family’s lives, which strengthens our bonds.

They’re also the perfect setting to hone our table manners.

Remember that manners aren’t just for special occasions or when we go out in public to a restaurant or to grandma’s house, they’re how we show consideration and respect for those sitting at the table with us.

So, if you’re like me, and feel like it’s time to get the table manners back on track in your household, here’s a brief refresher to get you started:

  1. Don’t stuff your cheeks or inhale your food. Taking smaller bites makes it easier to make conversation, allows you to chew and savour your food properly and reduces the likelihood of making a mess.
  2. Chew with your mouth closed and don’t talk while you’re chewing. Nobody should see food in your mouth, or falling from it.
  3. Make the table a screen-free zone. Not only is it hard to engage with people when you’re distracted, it’s disrespectful.
  4. Use your utensils and napkin. Aside from common finger foods like pizza or hamburgers, utensils should be used. I recommend holding your fork and knife “continental style” so that you don’t look like you’re stabbing or shovelling food. We can also encourage little ones who are just learning, to use napkins instead of their clothes, for instance.
  5. Say please and thank you. If you need something from across the table, need to be excused, or would like to show appreciation for the meal you’re enjoying, these magic words show others you’re polite.
  6. Keep anything hygiene-related away from the table. Excuse yourself if you need to blow your nose, fix your hair, or pick something out of your teeth, so that you can do it privately.

These basic table manners may seem like common sense, but without awareness and implementation they’re meaningless.

Manners are a lifestyle, and this holiday season, I’m grateful that my family and I were able to revive them and that this precious gift is once again present in our home.