Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Etiquette and Hands at the Table

Renaissance etiquette and one's hands at the table– On the Continent of Europe, propriety enjoins diners to sit with both hand in full view of the company; most correctly, unused hands should rest on the table's edge, being visible only from the wrists. 
Anglo-Saxon table manners allow, even prefer, the diner should eat where only one hand need be used, with the left hand lying on his or her lap.  It is a limitation upon one's ability to grab things, like the decision to use only the right hand, or only three fingers.  On the Continent of Europe, however, propriety enjoins diners to sit with both hand in full view of the company; most correctly, unused hands should rest on the table's edge, being visible only from the wrists.  (Erasmus had commanded boys to "have both hands on the table, not clasped together, nor on the plate.")  The Anglo-Saxon custom of permitting guests to sit with one hand hidden seems, to Continentals, at best a sad sign of naiveté.

One reason for hands being kept in sight used to be the people had to learn not to scratch at table. Della Casa's "Galateo" says, for instance, that waiters were not to scratch their heads– or anything else –"nor place their hands on any part of the body which is kept covered, nor even appear to do so, as do some careless servants who hold them inside their shirt or keep them behind their backs hidden under their clothes. They must rather keep their hands in sight and out of suspicion... ." 

This rule holds even more strongly for diners, who are constantly warned not to stroke their beards, twiddle their mustaches, rub and pat themselves, or scratch their heads. Erasmus says it is unsightly to scratch, especially if it is done through habit rather than necessity. John Russell's "Boke of Nurture" counsels against "clawing your back as if after a flea; or your head as if after a louse."  Fleas, like gristle in the mouth or fibers wedged between the teeth, are to be ignored by polite people. The discomfort they cause must be heroically endured and not only hidden from view, but kept from the suspicions of others." – Margaret Visser's, "The Rituals of Dinner" 



Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber is the Site Moderator for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia