Friday, June 6, 2014

A Victorian Woman's Etiquette for When a Dinner Guest

Dinner Company

"Never use an eye-glass, either to look at the persons around you or the articles upon the table..."

Etiquette for the Guest

When you receive an invitation to join a dinner-party, answer it immediately, as, by leaving your hostess in doubt whether you intend to accept or decline her hospitality, you make it impossible for her to decide how many she must prepare for. If you accept at first, and any unforeseen event keeps you from fulfilling your engagement, write a second note, that your hostess may not wait dinner for you. Such a note, if circumstances render it necessary to write it, may be sent with perfect propriety an hour before the time appointed for dinner, though, if you are aware that you cannot attend, earlier, you must send the information in good season.

You should enter the house of your hostess from a quarter to half an hour earlier than the time appointed for dining. Proceed at once to the dressing-room, and arrange your dress and hair, and then enter the drawing-room. By going to the house too early, you may hasten or interrupt the toilet arrangements of your hostess; while, by being late, you will establish a most disagreeable association in the minds of all present, as "the lady who kept dinner waiting at Mrs. L——'s."
A modestly set, Victorian dinner party table, for 12 persons. ~"To make remarks upon the guests or the dishes is excessively rude."
Immediately upon entering the parlor find your hostess, and speak to her first. It is very rude to stop to chat with other guests before greeting the lady of the house. You may bow to any one you know, in passing, but do not stop to speak. Having exchanged a few words with your hostess, turn to the other guests, unless you are the first arrival. In that case, converse with your host and hostess until others come in.

Be careful, if dinner is delayed by the tardiness of the guests, or from any other cause, that you do not show by your manner that you are aware of such delay. To look towards the door often, consult your watch, or give tokens of weariness, are all marks of ill-breeding. Your hostess will probably be sufficiently annoyed by the irregularity itself; do not add to her discomfort by allowing her to suppose that her guests perceive the deficiencies. Look over the books and pictures with an air of interest, converse cheerfully, and in every way appear as if dinner were a matter of secondary importance, (as, indeed, it should be,) compared with the pleasure of the society around you.
A Little Dinner in Bachelordom ~ "Look over the books and pictures with an air of interest, converse cheerfully, and in every way appear as if dinner were a matter of secondary importance, (as, indeed, it should be,) compared with the pleasure of the society around you."
When the signal for dinner is given, your hostess will probably name your escort to the table. If he is a stranger, bow in acknowledgement of the introduction, take his arm, and fall into your place in the stream of guests passing from the parlor to the dining-room. Take the seat pointed out by your hostess, or the waiter, as soon as it is offered. Each one will do this upon entering, and it prevents the confusion that will result if those first entering the room, remain standing until all the other guests come in. When you take your seat, be careful that your chair does not stand upon the dress of the lady next you, as she may not rise at the same instant that you do, and so you risk tearing her dress.

Sit gracefully at the table; neither so close as to make your movements awkward, nor so far away as to drag your food over your dress before it reaches your mouth. It is well to carry in your pocket a small pincushion, and, having unfolded your napkin, to pin it at the belt. You may do this quietly, without its being perceived, and you will thus really save your dress. If the napkin is merely laid open upon your lap, it will be very apt to
slip down, if your dress is of silk or satin, and you risk the chance of appearing again in the drawing-room with the front of your dress soiled or greased.
"It is well to carry in your pocket a small pincushion, and, having unfolded your napkin, to pin it at the belt. You may do this quietly, without its being perceived, and you will thus really save your dress."
If, by the carelessness or awkwardness of your neighbors or the servants, you have a plate of soup, glass of wine, or any dish intended for your mouth, deposited upon your dress, do not spring up, or make any exclamation. You may wipe off the worst of the spot with your napkin, and then let it pass without further notice. If an apology is made by the unlucky perpetrator of the accident, try to set him at his ease by your own lady-like composure. He will feel sorry and awkward enough, without reproach, sullenness, or cold looks from you.

Gloves and mittens are no longer worn at table, even at the largest dinner-parties.

To make remarks upon the guests or the dishes is excessively rude.

If the conversation is general, speak loudly enough to be heard by those around you, but, at the same time, avoid raising your voice too much. If the company is very large, and you converse only with the person immediately beside you, speak in a distinct, but low tone, that you may not interrupt other couples, but carefully avoid whispering or a confidential air. Both are in excessively bad taste. To laugh in a suppressed way, has the appearance of laughing at those around you, and a loud, boisterous laugh is always unlady-like. Converse cheerfully, laugh quietly, but freely, if you will, and while you confine your attention entirely to your neighbor, still avoid any air of secrecy or mystery.
"When helped to fish, remove, with knife and fork, all the bones, then lay down the knife, and, with a piece of bread in your left hand and a fork in your right, eat the flakes of fish."
Never use an eye-glass, either to look at the persons around you or the articles upon the table.
 
Eat your soup quietly. To make any noise in eating it, is simply disgusting. Do not break bread into your soup. Break off small pieces and put into your mouth, if you will, but neither bite it from the roll nor break it up, and eat it from your soup-plate with a spoon.

In eating bread with meat, never dip it into the gravy on your plate, and then bite the end off. If you wish to eat it with gravy, break off a small piece, put it upon your plate, and then, with a fork, convey it to your mouth.

When helped to fish, remove, with knife and fork, all the bones, then lay down the knife, and, with a piece of bread in your left hand and a fork in your right, eat the flakes of fish.

Need I say that the knife is to cut your food with, and must never be used while eating? To put it in your mouth is a distinctive mark of low-breeding.

If you have selected what you will eat, keep the plate that is placed before you; never pass it to the persons next you, as they may have an entirely different choice of meat or vegetables.

Never attempt to touch any dish that is upon the table, but out of your reach, bystretching out your arms, leaning forward, or, still worse, standing up. Ask the waiter to hand it, if you wish for it; or, if the gentleman beside you can easily do so, you may ask him to pass it to you.
If one didn't know the rules, one could always buy an etiquette book ~ "Never use a spoon for anything but liquids, and never touch anything to eat, excepting bread, celery, or fruit, with your fingers."
Do not press those near you to take more or other things than are upon their plate. This is the duty of the hostess, or, if the company is large, the servants will attend to it. For you to do so is officious and ill-bred.

When conversing let your knife and fork rest easily upon your plate, even if still in your hand. Avoid holding them upright. Keep your own knife, fork, and spoon solely for the articles upon your own plate. To use them for helping yourself to butter or salt, is rude in the extreme.

When you do not use the salt-spoon, sugar tongs, and butter- knife, you may be sure that those around you will conclude that you have never seen the articles, and do not know their use. You need not fear to offend by refusing to take wine with a gentleman, even your host. If you decline gracefully, he will appreciate the delicacy which makes you refuse. If, however, you have no conscientious scruples, and are invited to take wine, bow, and merely raise the glass to your lips, then set it down again. You may thus acknowledge the courtesy, and yet avoid actually drinking the wine.

No lady should drink wine at dinner. Even if her head is strong enough to bear it, she will find her cheeks, soon after the indulgence, flushed, hot, and uncomfortable; and if the room is warm, and the dinner a long one, she will probably pay the penalty of her folly, by having a headache all the evening.

If offered any dish of which you do not wish to partake, decline it, but do not assign any reason. To object to the dish itself is an insult to your entertainers, and if you assert any reason for your own dislike it is ill-bred.

Do not bend too much forward over your food, and converse easily. To eat fast, orappear to be so much engrossed as to be unable to converse, is ill-bred; and it makes those around you suspect that you are so little accustomed to dining well, that you fear to stop eating an instant, lest you should not get enough. It is equally ill-bred to accept every thing that is offered to you.

Never take more than two vegetables; do not take a second plate of soup, pastry, or pudding. Indeed, it is best to accept but one plate of any article.

Never use a spoon for anything but liquids, and never touch anything to eat, excepting bread, celery, or fruit, with your fingers.

In the intervals which must occur between the courses, do not appear to be conscious of the lapse of time. Wear a careless air when waiting, conversing cheerfully and pleasantly, and avoid looking round the room, as if wondering what the waiters are about.
"The horror of Mrs. Clendenning De Peyser at her absent-minded guest, who, having spilled salt on the table-cloth, pours on claret to take out the stain."
Never eat every morsel that is upon your plate; and surely no lady will ever scrape her plate, or pass the bread round it, as if to save the servants the trouble of washing it.

Take such small mouthfulls that you can always be ready for conversation, but avoid playing with your food, or partaking of it with an affectation of delicate appetite. Your hostess may suppose you despise her fare, if you appear so very choice, or eat too sparingly. If your state of health deprives you of appetite, it is bad enough for you to decline the invitation to dine out.

Never examine minutely the food before you. You insult your hostess by such aproceeding, as it looks as if you feared to find something upon the plate that should not be there.

If you find a worm on opening a nut, or in any of the fruit, hand your plate quietly, and without remark, to the waiter, and request him to bring you a clean one. Do not let others perceive the movement, or the cause of it, if you can avoid so doing.

Never make a noise in eating. To munch or smack the lips are vulgar faults.

Sit quietly at table, avoid stiffness, but, at the same time, be careful that you do not annoy others by your restlessness.

Do not eat so fast as to be done long before others, nor so slowly as to keep themwaiting. When the finger-glasses are passed round, dip the ends of your fingers into them, and wipe them upon your napkin; then do not fold your napkin, but place it beside your plate upon the table.

To carry away fruit or bonbons from the table is a sign of low breeding.

Rise with the other ladies when your hostess gives the signal.

After returning to the parlor, remain in the house at least an hour after dinner is over. If you have another engagement in the evening, you may then take your leave, but not before. You will insult your hostess by leaving sooner, as it appears that you came only for the dinner, and that being over, your interest in the house, for the time, has ceased. It is only beggars who "eat and run!"


From 1860, "The Ladies' Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness" by Florence Hartley