Thursday, October 9, 2014

Amy Vanderbilt on Dining Etiquette

Even when one uses the American zigzag method, it is sensible to convey food one has just cut to the mouth with the fork in the left hand, if one wishes.

The Use of the Knife and Fork

Knives and forks may be used American or Continental fashion, but a combination of the two systems is now often seen and is quite acceptable. Even when one uses the American zigzag method, it is sensible to convey food one has just cut to the mouth with the fork in the left hand, if one wishes. In other words, if you have cut off a bit of chop, it is not necessary, even conservative American style, to lay down the knife, place the fork, tines up, in the right hand and convey the meat to the mouth. Instead, one may use the fork in the left hand, with the tines of the fork down. 

Also, in eating a bit of bread and gravy by impaling the bread on the fork (in either hand), tines down, and sopping up the gravy it is now more usual than otherwise to convey the bit to the mouth with the fork tines down rather than up. Of course, nothing that would leak off the fork apple pie or other things needing a shoveling technique should be eaten this way. In the European fashion, food eaten with fork and knife is piled with the knife on the back of the fork, held in the left hand, and pressed down so it won't fall off or in the case of meat, impaled on the tines. The fork is then conveyed to the mouth, upside down, with the left hand.

Drinking Beverages at the Table

In drinking any beverage at table, a sip is never taken until the mouth is empty and has been wiped with the napkin. This keeps cup and glass rims free from food marks.

The Napkin

Napkins are placed on the lap entirely open if they are lunch-size or in half if they are dinner napkins. Guests wait until the hostess has taken up hers before placing their own. Napkins are tucked in only for children. They are never refolded; at the end of the meal, they are gathered and laid casually to the right of the place setting. Paper napkins are preferable to napkins to be used for more than one meal and placed in rings, but, if rings are used, they are given only to the family. A guest staying over should have a clean napkin each meal. Napkins reused are as incomprehensible to me as beds which have only one sheet changed. There are so many more sensible ways to economize.

Tipping of Dishes

The tipping of soup or dessert dishes is acceptable if the plate is tipped away from the spoon, not toward the eater.

The Soup or Bouillon Cup

Soup or bouillon served in a handled cup or even in a small cup-size bowl (Oriental fashion) is drunk. If there are dumplings or decorative vegetables or other garnish floating on top, these may be lifted out first with the spoon before the soup is drunk. Noodles or other things which may be in the bottom of the cup are spooned up after the liquid has been drunk.

Testing Liquids

Coffee or tea may be tested for heat or sweetening by one sip from the spoon, then drunk. If it is too hot, it must be allowed to stand until it is tolerable it may not be blown, spoonful by spoonful, until it is cool enough to drink.

"Stirring" Food

Nothing should ever be stirred up or mashed into a conglomerate heap on the plate. Gravy unless it is a gravy in which meat, fish or other protein is incorporated (rarebits, curries, blanquettes, chilis, etc.) is never poured or ladled onto rice, noodles, or other than meat on the plate. It is an insult to the cuisine to inundate everything on your plate with gravy or with that American favorite, catsup. If you want to eat your potatoes with gravy, you dip a forkful into the gravy that has escaped from the meat.

Conserves and Jellies

Conserves and jellies (jam and marmalade are for breakfast and tea) may be served at dinner or lunch with meat and are placed on the side of the plate, as are horse-radish, cranberry sauce, apple butter, relish. They are incorporated onto the fork as the food is taken into the mouth. Hard sauce is placed on the side of the dessert plate and incorporated with the pudding with dessert fork or spoon. Dessert sauces are ladled onto the dessert. Liquid sauces (mint, Chateaubriand, Worcestershire, etc...) meant for the meat are poured only onto it.

When Food is Too Hot

Too hot foods taken accidentally into the mouth are never hastily spit out in any way but are quenched with a drink of water before being swallowed (exception to rule against drinking with anything in the mouth).

"Spoiled" Food

Nothing, not even a bad clam, is ever spit, however surreptitiously, into a napkin. But it is sheer masochism to down, for the sake of manners, something really spoiled, once you have got a goodly mouthful. Anyone with experience in those foreign countries where such things are common knows it is better to seem unmannerly than to brave ptomaine or worse. Certainly, a partly chewed mouthful of food looks unappetizing to one's dinner partner if it has been necessary for you to deposit it from your fork on the side of the plate. It should be screened, if possible, with some celery leaves or, perhaps, a bit of bread. And, in taking it out of your mouth, try not to look as if anything were the matter. After all, if you were eating stewed or canned cherries, you would place the pits in the spoon with which you were eating, then place them on the side of your plate without anyone thinking the procedure disgusting.

Coughing at the Table

Ordinary coughing at table is done behind the hand, without excuse, but a coughing fit, brought on by something being caught in the windpipe, indicates that you must leave the table immediately without excuse (you can't talk, anyhow). If necessary, your partner at table offers help in the next room a pat on the back or a glass of water. If there is a servant present he or she attends to this unless the hostess indicates to some member of the family or to a nearby guest that help might be better from that source.

Blowing One's Nose at the Table

If the nose must be blown at table, it is done as quietly as possible, without excuse to draw attention to the fact.

"Foreign Matter" in Foods

Foreign bodies accidentally taken into the mouth with food gravel, stones, bird shot are removed with thumb and forefinger, as are fish bones and other tiny bones. If a gnat gets into a beverage or some other unappetizing creature turns up in or on a diner's food, he fishes it out, unobserved (so others won't see it and be upset), and then either proceeds or leaves the drink or dish untouched, depending on the degree of odiousness of the intruder. A gnat or a tiny inchworm on lettuce shouldn't bother anyone, but most fastidious people draw the line at a fly or worse. If the hostess notices an untouched dish, she may say, "Do let me serve you a fresh portion," and she has the dish or drink removed without remarking clinically as to the need for the move. Or if a servant notices, she asks if the guest would like a fresh serving. In a restaurant, if host or hostess does not notice (and both should be alert for this sort of thing) that something is amiss, the guest may tactfully murmur to the waiter that the dish or drink needs changing preferably when host or hostess's attention is directed else- where.

When You Need Silverware

Your own wet spoon should never be placed in a sugar bowl, nor your butter knife in the jam or butter dish. If the serving utensils have been forgotten, pause long enough for the hostess to notice what's happened.

Tasting Another's Food

Sometimes a couple dining in a restaurant wish to taste each other's food. This is informal but permissible, though only if a fresh fork or spoon is used, with the possessor of the dish then handing the "taste" implement, handle first, to the other person. The other must not reach across the table and eat from a companion's plate, no matter how many years they have been married. If one of the two has had included some item say French fried potatoes in his order and doesn't wish them, he asks the waiter to serve them to the other, if desired he doesn't take them on his plate, then re-serve them.

Using Bread as a "Pusher"

A bit of bread, if available, is used to push food onto a fork never use the fingers. At formal dinners when bread is not served one may always switch to the Continental style, if one is adept, and chase the peas onto the back of the fork held in the left hand, pressing them down before conveying the fork, upside down, to the mouth. Or, holding the fork in the right or (French and Italian fashion) left hand, tines up, on plate, one may guide difficult food onto it with the side of the knife.

Reaching at Table

Reaching at table is now preferred to asking neighbors to pass things one can well take up himself, but one should not have to rise out of his seat.

From the original Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette