Monday, February 8, 2016

Etiquette of the Persian Shah

Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar was the Shah of Iran from 1896 to 1907 — Though knives, forks and spoons were commonly used in Western Europe and the United States by 1900, they were still relatively "new" when one looks back in time. But people forget history quickly, as forks for dining originated in the Middle East, and they weren't in wide use in Western Europe until the late 1600s - early 1700s. So to the "Western World," the Shah eating with his fingers, was worthy of a headlne.
 "Eats with His Fingers"

John Foster Fraser made the acquaintance of the Shah of Persia during his now historical cycle ride around the world. Of this great potentate's personality Mr. Fraser writes: "He rises early, performs his devotions, has a piece of thin, pasty Persian bread and a glass of sweetened tea. Then at about 8 o'clock, he receives his ministers. 


He is slovenly in habit and walks up and down the room with his slippers flip-flapping; indeed, the story goes that the reason he parted with his first wife was because she constantly complained he did not wash himself. He dictates dozens of letters, hears dispatches read, consults authorities, attends minutely to every detail of business. This continues for six hours at a stretch. 

"Then he has his breakfast. All the food is carefully prepared, and a Prince of the Royal house is responsible that no tricks are played. Every dish as it is sent from the kitchen is sealed, and the seals are broken in the Shah's presence. The Shah, according to etiquette, eats alone. Formerly he squatted and ate from a big tray placed on the floor. But since coming to Teheran he has been persuaded to sit on a mattress and eat from a table about a foot high. At first a chintz cloth was on the table, but he was told it would be much nicer if he had a white cloth, and so a white cloth is now used. 

Between 50 and 60 dishes are served, but his Majesty only touches two or three. "First he will eat greased rice, followed possibly by a chicken or some grilled morsels of mutton laid between two sheets of thin bread; and then, as dessert, maybe a citron in syrup, quite the ordinary Persian fare. 

Knives and forks are are things unknown at court, and the Shah eats everything with his fingers—greased rice, mutton and fruit. At his breakfast, extracts from European papers, chiefly French, are read to the Shah. He takes a keen interest in European politics, and frequently in conversation about his own government he will ask: 'Now, what would the Queen of England do in such a case?'" — From The Los Angeles Herald, 1900


Etiquette Enthusiast Maura J Graber is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia