Friday, December 6, 2013

Vintage 1940's and 1950's Frat House Etiquette

From Ch. 6 of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity Pledge Manual: The Fraternity Gentleman
Copyright 1940, text from 1958 printing

The chances are that you'll find more gentleman per square foot if all the men--

Place knife and fork on plate when not in use.
Turn the blade of the knife in. 
Break a slice of bread into at least four pieces, no less, and butter a bite at a time. 
Chew slowly and thoroughly. 
Use a napkin frequently. 
Sit erect. 
Take small mouthfuls. 
Hold elbows close to body. 
Place spoon in proper saucer. 
Stir liquids briefly and quietly. 
Place your prongs up on plate. 
Hold fork in left hand when cutting foods with knife.
Eat salads and vegetables with fork.
Take soup from side of spoon, scooping thitherwardly.
Converse quietly and not volubly. 
Be natural and at ease. 
Place napkins at left of plate when rising.

A 1940's Fraternity Toga Party; One was still expected to be a gentleman.
Here are other useful points-- 
A good rule, cut your food with a fork if it is soft and can readily be done this way. Also use fork for vegetables and salads and for pastry dessert. Use the regular dinner fork if no salad or dessert fork has been provided. When you are not using the fork, and after you've finished eating, place it on the plate prongs up. 

The knife is used to cut with and you shouldn't use it to dissect baked potatoes and other such foods. When you're not using the knife, you should place it on the side of the plate, edged turned in. It is incorrect to lean the knife or other utensils against the plate edge. 

When special steak and butter knives are provided, they should be readily recognized.  At the end of the meal the knife and fork should be placed on the plate at an angle of about forty-five degrees to the edge of the table, handle to the right. This is utilitarian for thus the silver has no chance of slipping off the plate when it is taken from the table.

A spoonful of soup is carried just to the lips and not into the mouth. Solids or semi-solids are taken into the mouth, though no farther than necessary, and large or heaping spoonfuls should be avoided. Do not use a spoon for vegetables.

There are some edibles which are to be taken in the fingers such as corn on the cob, olives, pickles, celery, green onions, and artichokes. Chicken is occasionally handled with the fingers, but don't do it unless it's the custom of the house. Crackers or bread shouldn't be broken into soup or stew any more than gravy should be poured over a slice of bread in a plate. And don't dunk.

Of the three methods of serving food, the family style, that of placing the food on the table and allowing the guests to help themselves, is the most informal. When family style is the custom, food should be passed to the right, enabling one to serve a guest before oneself.

North Carolina State's First African American Fraternity, 1971
A more formal style of serving, employed in chapter houses is for special guest dinners and for the evening meal, is to serve on plates from the kitchen or serving pantry.  Bread, butter, and such items may be placed on the table, or these also may be brought in from the kitchen. The host and guests are served first from the left; the plates are also removed from the left. One shouldn't begin to eat until the others have been served and the head of the table or the host himself begins. However, if a nervous or over-hungry guest should start beforehand, it might relieve embarrassment for the members to begin too.

The third style of serving is from the head of the table. From serving dishes placed there, the person at the head portions out the food on the plates, passing them down both sides, without deference to guests. Those at the table pass along their plates for portions, or the plates may all be placed at the head.

There is a good reason for nearly every rule governing table etiquette. People who are naturally courteous and thoughtful have little difficulty in cultivating a good table manners.  The basis of all formal etiquette is consideration for the rights and sensibilities of others. Manners differ from state to state; the local custom should be observed.

"Good taste, so necessary to the college gentleman, is not a commodity that can be bought." A 1955 Fraternity photo from New York

Good Manners

Good Manners are extremely important in every walk of life. Good manners are not merely something taken out of rule books on etiquette but are hard and fast practical assets in human relationship. The acquisition of knowing how to act in the company of other people is one of the most important phases of fraternity life. Politeness, courtesy, and proper behavior can make relationships enjoyable and pleasant. These qualities enable the man who has them to make acquaintances readily and gracefully. On the other hand, where these qualities are absent, social communion is difficult or marked by misunderstanding, embarrassment, and strangeness.

Good manners are the instruments that round of the personality of a man so that it is agreeable and becomes a strong magnet of attraction for fellowship in the business world as well as in campus life.

Good taste, so necessary to the college gentleman, is not a commodity that can be bought. It is a part of careful breeding. The average young man is schooled carefully at home in the niceties of social conduct, yet he is confronted with many new situations at college, and experience teaches the likelihood of the freshmen to grow careless about matters of conduct.

Probably no finer impression can be made upon guests, visiting alumni, rushees, professors, parents, and friends, than a chapter whose members know and show hospitality and good taste. There is no doubt about the weight of good taste in establishing a commendable atmosphere and reputation for the chapter.

Wrote John Henry Newman, English theologian and author of the last century; "It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who inflicts no pain, carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast. He has no ear for slander or gossip, is scrupulous imputing motives to those who interfere with him and interpret everything for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments or insinuate evil which he dare not say out. He may be right or wrong in his opinion, but he is too clear headed to be unjust. He is a friend of religious toleration, and that, not only because his philosophy has taught him to look upon all forms of faith with an impartial eye, but also from the gentleness of feeling which is attendant on civilization."

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