much in a person's mode of eating".
Table manners in Europe date back to the eleventh century, to the days of chivalry and knights-errant. The knights, or chevaliers, were armed horsemen, "gallant, courageous and fair" -- hence our word cavalry. In the thirteenth century, Frederick II inaugurated courtly manners, which emphasized intellect, wit, and beauty. Our word courtesy is a diminutive of "courtier's customs," while manners comes from the Latin manuarius, meaning "of the hand."
Bite not thy bread and lay it down,
This is not curtesy to use in town:
But break as much as you will eat,
The remnant to the poor you shall leave.
~ The Boke of Curtesye, c. 1460
The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries gave birth to modern table manners. With the invention of movable type around 1440, books on social deportment based on consideration of others began to circulate. William Caxton, the first printer in England, published The Boke of Curtesye, around 1477, a tome that set forth the duties of knighthood and chivalrous conduct.
Renaissance women of the aristocracy played a more passive and decorative role than today, and it was gentlemen with leisure time who contemplated social deportment and wrote etiquette books. In 1528 Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian diplomat, penned Il Libro d'Oro, which was translated into English as The Courtier in 1561.
Children of the aristocracy learned table manners through menial service in noble households and from etiquette manuals. In the sixteenth century, Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch humanist, writer, and professor of divinity at Cambridge, who believed in the education of youth, set forth the following guidelines for social deportment.
At table or at meat, let mirth be with thee, let ribaldrie be excised; sit not down until thou have washed, but let thy nails be prepared before, and no filth stick in them, lest thou be called sloven and a great nigard. Remember the common saying, and before make water, and if need require, ease thy belly, and if thou be gird too tight, to unloose thy girdle is wisdom, which to do at table is shame. When thou wipest thy hands put forth of thy mind all grief, for at the table it become mete not to be sad, not to make others sad.
And in the
sixteenth century, rules of dining were formalized:
Or speake to any, his head in the cup.
They knife se be sharpe to cut fayre thy meate;
Thy mouth not to full when thou dost eate;
Not smackynge thy lyppes, As commonly do hogges,
Nor gnawynge the bones As it were dogges;
Suche rudenes abhorre, Suche beastlylnes flie,
At the table behave thy selfe manerly...
Pyke not thy teethe at the table syttnge;
Nor use at they meate Over muche spytynge;
This rudnes of youth Is to abhorde;
manerly Behave at the borde.
Court etiquette was so elaborate in the seventeenth century that it bordered on the ridiculous. Aristocrats were given tickets of admission to court ceremonies with a code of conduct printed on the reverse side. Gradually, etiquette came to mean a mode of behavior, not only for the French court but in social situations everywhere.
Although etiquette in Europe and England was dictated by gentlemen of leisure, in the United States men were too busy laying the foundation of a new country and providing a living for their families. It fell to the women to teach social deportment and etiquette. The exception was a young George Washington, who at age 16 wrote Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, a school exercise that included 110 rules based on a seventeenth-century book written by Francis Hawkins, Youths Behavior, or Decency in Conversation Amongst Men, itself based on a set of rules set forth by French Jesuits in the sixteenth century. The number one maxim that runs throughout Washington's book is consideration for others. This is the basis of modern table manners.
Nothing is as
revealing about one's environment and social adjustment as table
manners. A person with poor table manners usually has poor manners in
other areas of life. Suffice it to say that manners must relate to
one's lifestyle; otherwise they are mere affectations. Although every
decade brings sweeping changes, the customs of the table prevail
because they make sense and, once obtained, are never lost or taken
from us. Let's start at the beginning of a meal, and work our way
through to the end.
Rather than delay dinner for everyone to accommodate the arrival of a late guest, dinner is held no longer than 15 to 20 minutes.
At a formal occasion, when a guest arrives late to a dinner or luncheon, a butler or maid answers the door (so as not to interrupt the table conversation), and the hostess remains seated. The latecomer goes to the hostess immediately, offers a brief explanation, and is served the course in progress. If the latecomer arrives during dessert, as a courtesy the hostess sees that a dinner plate is made up for him or her.
At an informal meal, the host answers the door and greets the latecomer, who makes a brief explanation to the hostess. When the latecomer is a gentleman, the other men at the table remain seated. But, if the latecomer is a lady, as a courtesy, all the gentlemen rise and the man on her left helps her into her seat.
Where to Put the Cocktail Glass When Dinner Is Announced
A cocktail glass
is not brought to the dinner table because water and several wines
are served with the multicourse meal. The extra glass crowds the
place setting and disturbs the symmetry of the table. Moreover, the
taste of grain-based spirits nullifies the flavor of wine served with
the meal. Simply leave the cocktail glass in the room where cocktails
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