Four Things to Know About Table Manners
When it comes to table manners, people know to chew with their mouths closed, keep their elbows off the table, and refrain from eating any candles until after the meal—but what about the lesser-known rules of dinner etiquette?
1. There is a polite way to spit out food. Everyone has accidentally bitten into a chicken bone or discovered that Aunt Tildy’s marshmallow topping was actually leftover potatoes. According to the Emily Post Institute, the polite way out of this scenario is to use your tongue to help place the morsel onto whatever utensil you used to eat it in the first place, be it a fork or your fingers. The trick is subtlety: quickly remove the morsel and place it discreetly on the side of your plate—never in a napkin.
2. You can use your silverware to signal when you’ve finished eating. Instead of pushing your plate forward or smashing it against the wall, simply place your silverware over your plate. Position the silverware handles at the 4 o’clock position, with the other end pointing up toward 10 o’clock.
3. Americans cut up their steaks weird—but that's OK. Unlike Brits who never switch between hands, Americans tend to hold the knife in their dominant hand and transfer the fork into that same hand to pick up the meat. No one quite knows why Americans adopted the “cut-and-switch” method, but one theory holds that the custom is a holdover from the 17th century, when the fork was still a novel piece of equipment; diners may have wanted to draw extra attention to their swanky utensil.
4. Good table manners once got you a tax break. One of the first known proponents of table manners was Petrus Alfonsi, a member of King Henry I’s court in the early 12th century. His insistence that aristocratic men shouldn’t speak with their mouths full or spray crumbs over the table had an impact on Scotland’s King David I, who proposed tax breaks for any of his subjects who improved their etiquette.
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