Do You Know How to Eat in Public? Find Out

Dining table

[This is a re-post of a previously-published article.]

I’ve always gotten nervous by the idea of eating in fine restaurants, and my fear of publicly embarrassing myself while dining out seems to grow as I get older. I wonder: Which fork should I use? What happens if I spill food on myself? Or worse, what happens if I mispronounce a word on the menu? Will everyone in the restaurant, waitstaff included, know that I am a phony who does not deserve to eat there?

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Ladies Shut Their Mouths

Photo of couple on the beach. Image by Pexels.

I like to talk, like a lot. Especially if I’m dating a guy that I connect with. One of the best parts of being in a relationship is being able to have honest and intimate conversations with a person who knows you better than you even know yourself. But I, like a lot of young women, had to learn the hard way that everything should not be shared with a man, your coworkers or your relatives. There is such thing as polite conversation.

In her book “Commonsense Etiquette,” Marjabelle Young Stewart argues that unpleasant conversation causes undue stress to others. She writes:

I find that the best table conversations, whether for a family dinner or a formal one, are those that are of interest to most or all the people at the table and that have elements of humor or surprise. I try to avoid subjects that are unpleasant and likely to cause distress or argument. Detailed recountings of the mundane events of the day probably won’t add much to a meal, but amusing stories and bits of news will.

Etiquette bookIn other words, be pleasant. At all times. Otherwise, you close doors to potential opportunities at work and with potential suitors. Since we are concerned with relationships at Ladies Again, here are a few things you should never discuss with a man you are interested in, as long as you live:

Bodily fluids. Why do so many women want to talk to men about their periods? I do not understand the logic of being gross with your man. No one wants to date a woman who talks freely about farting, burping or vomiting after a hard night of drinking with the girls. Polite conversation is for the man’s benefit, not yours, because you do not want to make him feel uncomfortable. I know that as a woman you probably feel comfortable enough with your spouse to discuss everything about your life, but trust me, he does not ever want to hear it. Save the conversations about bodily fluids with your mom, friends or gynecologist.

Your sexual history. In When Harry Met Sally, the two main characters casually joke over lunch about their previous sexual experiences. It was a cute moment in the film, but a scene like that never happens in reality. A man never wants to hear details about your previous sexual experiences. Remember, you are lady and you need to act accordingly. It is unacceptable for you to brag about the number of men you have slept with or discuss your reckless sexually fluid past. It is disgusting to do so because you are not, and will never be, one of the guys. For many men, it is just as grotesque for a woman to discuss her sexual escapades as it is for a woman to discuss her menstrual cycle.

Always keep your number of sexual partners close to your heart. Let’s remember that ladies keep their number of sexual partners low because they do not want to get emotionally attached or impregnated by the wrong man. Therefore, you should only be thinking about having sex with men who are in committed relationships with you. Second, you should avoid any conversation about past sexual partners. In general, if your number of sexual partners is already high, you will have to lie if the conversation comes up. Remember to play coy in bed; you have never tried crazy sex positions before and you have no idea how oral sex works.

Your past relationships. It is just in bad form to discuss past relationships as it is to discuss your sexual escapades. You do not want to make your current beau feel jealous or inadequate by blabbering about your exes. Or make him feel like he is dating used goods or community property. As far as you know, your ex-boyfriend is dead to you. Also, never discuss any crazy dates you have been on. From henceforth, all ex-boyfriends are now referred to “friends.” You did not go to that wedding with your ex-fiance, you went with a friend from college. All photos and videos of you with your ex-boyfriend must be destroyed.

Did I miss any other impolite conversation topics? Let me know in the comments below.

Read more: Go Ahead. Mail That Thank You Card

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All You Need to Know About Fine Dining

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I’ve always gotten nervous by the idea of eating in fine restaurants, and my fear of publicly embarrassing myself while dining out seems to grow as I get older. I wonder: Which fork should I use? What happens if I spill food on myself? Or worse, what happens if I mispronounce a word on the menu? Will everyone in the restaurant, waitstaff included, know that I am a phony who does not deserve to eat there?

No one wants to be the rube at a restaurant or country club who looks painfully out of place. One of the ways I’m protecting myself from public embarrassment is to read as many etiquette books as I possibly can. In one great book titled “Commonsense Etiquette,” Marjabelle Young Stewart outlines basic table manners and provides historical and contextual explanations for each rule, which in turn, makes each rule easier to comprehend and memorize. She writes:

Since all manners arise from the instinct to treat others kindly, table manners will actually benefit those who use them and those who view them. Simple consideration is the bedrock of all good behavior, table manners included, and once you understand that, you can eat at any table with confidence.

Take one rule and Stewart will explain the rationale behind the purpose of the table manner. Let’s start by looking at the rule that requires guest to sit up straight and to keep their elbows off the table. Why? The reasoning is that slouching over your meal prevents you from looking directly at the other guests around you. If you put your elbows on the table, you appear to look bored or tired at the table. Sit up straight, eat with one hand, and place your stationary hand in your lap. Below, I will share a few basic table etiquette rules from the book:

Basic Rules to Memorize

  • Sit up straight.
  • Chew quietly with your mouth closed and never slurp liquids.
  • Cut foods into bite-sized pieces, one piece at a time (for example, do not cut all of your steak pieces before you eat, or you will look like you are cutting up food for a child).
  • Do not stuff your mouth.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Do not hold your utensil in midair while talking or listening.
  • Keep your elbows off the table. You cannot sit up attentively if you are leaning on your arms.
  • Ask your companions to pass you food that is far away.
  • Always say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when foods are passed and when accepting and declining food.
  • Excuse yourself when you leave the table.
  • Compliment the cook for the effort of preparing the meal.
  • Never pick your teeth, clean your nails, comb your hair or put on lipstick at the table. Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to blow your nose.
  • Remember that proper table settings are quite logical, as they reflect the order in which the utensils should be used. We start with the outermost fork or spoon in the setting and work our way in, usually using one utensil per course. If you are served soup, then the table will offer a soup spoon on the outside right of your place setting.
  • If you do not know which utensil to use, wait until your host or hostess takes the first bite and observe which utensil he or she uses.
  • Once you have used a utensil, put it on the side of your plate, never back on the table.
  • When you are resting between bites, you can place your knife and fork across one another in the middle of your plate.
  • When you are finished with the course, place them parallel to one another and on one side of your plate, which signals to the waiter that you are finished.
  • Gravy may be aired over meat and potatoes but not over vegetables.
  • The first thing you should do when sitting at a formal dinner is put the napkin in your lap.
  • At the beginning of the meal, wait for the person who prepared the meal to sit and begin before beginning yourself.
  • When presented with a finger bowl, dip your fingers in the water, and blot them in your napkin.
  • You may be served sorbet between courses; this is meant to cleanse the palate and you do not need to eat all of it.
  • Never grab a fork and hold it like a shovel. Avoid arching your wrists.
  • All food must be eaten in manageable bites without overfilling the mouth; chewing is to be done with the mouth closed. Wolfing down food aggressively does not denote enthusiasm but greed.
  • Usually food is passed to the right because most people are right-handed and it is easier to reach the food.
  • A formal dinner typically includes the following elements: appetizer, soup, appetizer, meat, salad and dessert.
  • Pay your fair share when dining at a restaurant with friends. If you order a steak for 16 dollars , while everyone else has an appetizer for 3 dollars, make sure to pay extra for your share.
  • Never split pennies at the table, as it will waste time, irritate your fellow diners and put a damper on the meal.

Place Settings and Silverware Types

Formal place setting. Formal place setting.

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Go Ahead. Mail That Thank You Card

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Communication today, it seems, is mostly digital. You fire off emails to your supervisor, you send text messages to your siblings and friends and you peruse blogs and social media platforms after work hours. While it is great that the world’s digital transformation is making it easier to get work done, we are losing a bit of our sense of humanity and social connectedness in the process. Nothing is as gracious or thoughtful as the written word and emails and text messages are far more disposable, temporary and impersonal.

pizza image

If you had to guess, when would you say was the last time that you sent a friend or a relative a letter or a thank you card? I send out Christmas cards to my family members annually, but that is the only mass mailing I send out every year. I may send my mother a “Thinking of You” card every now and then, but I am not consistent with my mailings to her. And I cannot remember the last time I sent a handwritten note to anyone.

While no computer screen can make up for all of the visceral components of personal, face-to-face interactions, there are ways to show relatives and friends that you care about them. You can send personalized letters, cards and thank-you notes. Letters mean such a great deal to the people who receive them, which is why it is important to remind your love ones that you care about them. I spent a great deal of time this summer memorizing helpful pointers from Marjabelle Young Stewart’s etiquette book “Commonsense Etiquette,” a book that explores ways to behave with courtesy and style. Is there anything more ladylike than basic etiquette? After reading the text, I followed Stewart’s advice and sought out personal stationery. She recommends that readers keep on hand the following materials:

Formal Writing Paper
This paper is used to respond to formal invitations and write condolence letters. This paper should be plain white or cream of fine heavy stock. Remember that formal paper has a fold on the left side, giving it a fold that measures about 5.5 by 7.75 inches.

Everyday Writing Paper
Everyday writing paper is paper used for writing letters to friends, thank-you notes, letters of congratulation and condolence (use gray writing paper for condolence letters). These letters can be monogrammed or personalized with the letter-writer’s name and address.

Correspondence Cards
Correspondence cards measure 3.5 X 5.75 inches and are used for quick short notes.

Blank Decorated Cards
These are decorated store-bought cards that allow you to write your own greetings. Do not use decorated cards with preprinted messages―you want to send a personalized, classy and thoughtful message to your contacts. Sorry Hallmark!

You should send personalized notes and letters to your contacts throughout the year. Additionally, Stewart argues that there are situations in which it is rude not to write a thank you note, including:

  • Letter of acceptance or regret to a formal invitation
  • Thank you for a wedding present
  • Thank you for spending the night in someone’s home
  • Thank you note to someone who has done you a special favor
  • Note of congratulations to an important event, accomplishment or honor in a friend’s life
  • Thank you for presents not opened in the giver’s presence
  • Letter of condolence to a friend on the death of an immediate family member

Sample Notes

Not sure of what to say in your note? Here are a two sample notes:

Dear Eunice,
Thank you for the lovely evening spent at your dinner party on Monday. The night could not have been organized better, from the lively conversation to the delicious food you prepared. We’re still talking about the luscious red devil cake. Thank you so much for inviting us.

Fondly,
Tonya


 

Stephanie,

I just learned of the death of your mother. I’ve heard you speak of her warmly and I know how much she meant to you and your brothers and sisters. I just wanted you to know that you have my deepest sympathy. If there is anything at all that I can do for you at, please call me and I’ll come right over.

Love,
Blade

Read more: When You May be Too Old for Marriage

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