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Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Get your elbows off the table!


When I was a young child growing up in the 1960 and 70s I would have to share a cramped dinner table at meal times with my Mum, Dad and two sisters and a smaller baby brother.

The table manners we were taught seemed draconian at the time, mainly with Dad acting as if he were in the army still. Whatever we did, especially regarding personal hygiene, there would be a line up type inspection.I wondered if any of you had similar 'rules/orders' you were forced to obey. I must say that it didn't make mealtimes very enjoyable although Mum's food was always nice and plentiful. From the ones that I can remember, here's a list of our family rules at dinner.


  • No-one was allowed to start eating before everyone was seated.
    Always wash your hands before meals and get them inspected.
    Interestingly, I don't recall us saying 'grace' before eating.
    Elbows on the table was a definite no no.
    No eating with your mouth open and exposing the food being chewed.
    You had to eat all your dinner or you didn't get a pudding or sweet.
    No playing with your food - we kids liked to build mashed potato houses.
    No talking at the table except to ask politely for something to be passed.
    No child could leave the table until the others kids had finished eating.
    Washing the pots and pans was called 'doing the chores'. Oh joy!
    The ritual of us kids washing up after meals caused huge family rows.
    We had to eat properly with a knife and fork - rarely the fingers.
    Slurping soup was a heinous crime, punishable by death by moaning.
    If we had bread and butter the butter had to be spread really thinly.
    We could never lick a knife or fork or put a knife in your mouth.
    Weirdly, we weren't allowed to have a drink at the table, just food.
    If peas dropped from your fork on the table or floor you would get told off. Big time.
    A huge fuss was made if you soiled the tablecloth with food or gravy, even if it was just a small splash.
    Farting at the table was only allowed at Christmas with guests around.


    I'm sure that there were more rules and regulations in the parental attempts at teaching us good table manners. Strangers on holidays would always comment on what nice - well behaved children we were. More like terrified of doing anything wrong I think. lol
I would love to hear about your experiences from childhood or those with children nowadays.

14 comments:

MattW said...

I was born in 1982. Our table rules weren't as strict as yours, but I think you'll find a lot of them are common to many people:

No chewing with your mouth open.
No talking with your mouth full.
Don't start until everybody is seated.
Don't reach across the table; ask somebody to pass what you want.
Don't put your knife in your mouth (I always thought this was a safety thing more than ettiquette, but I guess it's both)
Try not to spill food or drink on the table, tablecloth, floor, yourself, other diners...
Avoid belching or breaking wind; say 'pardon me' if it's unavoidable.
Eat everything on the plate.
Wash your hands before and after the meal.
Help with the preparation or cleanup.
Stay at the table after you've finished until you're excused.
No toys, books or other non-eating activities at the table (I mention this as although I would have thought it was obvious, I had a friend who was raised in a house where it was perfectly ordinary for everyone to sit and read a book or play with toy cars during dinner)

We didn't say grace, as we aren't a religious family. There weren't line-up inspections of cleanliness, although I suspect Dad had such things when he was little. Granddad was quite strict about things like that. Presumably from the same generation as your father.

Phil Lowe said...

Wow, what a great comment MattW. Like the bit about toys at the table and reading a book. That's not right - laptop yeah but toys no. Only kidding about the laptop. Thanks for all the effort you've put in for the list - lot of similarities there.Cheers.

StGeorgeOfEngland said...

Yeah, books at the table? Jeez! What Barbarians. Hehe.
Laptop, mobile phone, even not using a table at all seem to be the norm these days.
When I read your list yesterday Phil it was exactly as I was raised around the same period.
My mum would make the most wonderful stews in the biggest pan I had ever seen. My sister would sit and pick out parsnip, onion, mushroom and any of those wonderful Bisto lumps of black/brown goo that swam around. When nobody was looking I would scoop everything of the rim of her bowl into mine. I had a meal and a half at stew time.

French Fancy said...

I must have had lovely parents because I don't remember any rules at all and I'm not disgusting or anything.

(sorry I've not posted on everything you've done lately - I've been working, believe it or not)

Phil Lowe said...

All is forgiven French Fancy - your parents parents have clearly brung you up ok, regardless.I have missed your wit so I'm pleased you are back in the fold, as it were. My Dad could be a bit of a Victorian Dad bless him. He's probably up in heaven wiping the back of God's ears with a damp spittle soaked hankie right now. A check to see if one had washed behind one's ears, by the way.

French Fancy said...

Hope the pastrami and tomatoes made a nice tasty meal,

Roger Green said...

I was a child growing up in the 60s and 70s and had a similar set of rules. I have fond memories of the rare occasions when we had dinner guests. The adults would eat together in the dining room and the kids would have their meals in the living room. Without adult supervision, the normal rules didn’t apply. Great fun!

Phil Lowe said...

French Fancy: I made a few pastrami and salad sandwiches with them See her latest post for an amusing post about the joys of Lidl.

Guy: That stew sounds great. I often make a stew for myself although the amount I make is more like for a family of six and I am quite happy to eat the same thing for a few days running.

Roger:the only time I recall having meals away from the table was on Sunday night when a buffet type salad was prepared by my step-mum and we would all sit in the living room watching the Holiday programme presented by Cliff Mitchelmore. Oh we would go to the park for picnics in the summmer too and eat on the grass.

StGeorgeOfEngland said...

Being a single young lad like yourself I regularly make a 3 or 4 day meal in my slow cooker. Stew is great as is my girlfriends meat Gumbo recipe but Chili Con Carne can get a bit dodgy!

I remember reading a section in the Times about manners and etiquette. One question asked if it was good manners to read the newspaper at the table.
If eating breakfast it is fine to muse over the paper whether in compant or alone.
Lunches were for light conversation but no papers.
Dinner was a very formal affair where conversation and cigars should be left until after the meal had ended and the ladies withdrawn. That bit sounds around 150 years old to me but it was printed within the last 5 years. Hehe.
G.

Phil Lowe said...

I'm always smoking cigars after the ladies retire, that and a quality brandy followed by a good old hunting shooting session on the moors with Prince whatever his darned name is, what? Reading the newspaper (only the Times) over breakfast is fine as long as the servants clear up after one, don't you think old chum?

firstfiddle said...

I share your list Phil, it must be an ex army thing.

GG

The Courteous Chihuahua said...

What an interesting list. Growing up in a not particularly happy family, mealtime is actually one of my better memories. My dad's biggest no-no was lip smacking, and I have to say, that annoys me as well. Other than that and having to clean your plate, family dinner was usually a nice time.

Phil Lowe said...

Ah lip smacking and making noises while eating used to drive my dad barmy. i had a childhood friend who used to hum whilst eating but that is unusual.

Kang: Thanks for your email on this topic. I hope you don't mind me sharing the details with my readers from your Chinese family perspective.

'Hi Phil,

I stumbled into your food blog via food buzz and am enjoying it on the whole. I grew up in a Chinese household and as you know Chinese dishes are shared amongst the table.

We need leverage since we use chopsticks so one elbow is always on the table, while the other holds on to the sticks. Because food is shared, chopsticks would clash in the air above the food, and to avoid this, we're taught as kids to let the elders go for the food first, as a sign of respect to our parents.

Anyway, that's my childhood story about table manners.

I run londoneater.com, a London restaurant blog and was wondering if you'd consider doing a link exchange?do come check out my blog if you can and keep up the great wok at yours!

Kind regards
Kang.'

Kang the London Eater said...

Hi Phil, happy to see my comment here, thanks for this Phil

kang.