When I sit down with a plate of food in front of me, the last thing on my mind is table manners. My thoughts are probably along the lines of quickly inhaling everything on said plate while simultaneously ensuring none of the different food groups touch. …Yes, I’m one of those people.

Image source: cheezburger
Image source: cheezburger

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the most elegant or refined lady around, but I’m no uncouth slob, either! I say my pleases and thank yous, and I don’t always belch. But there some finer of points of eating etiquette that I can’t (…really won’t) follow, because they’re really not that offensive. To me.

Eating With Your Mouth Closed
I respectfully disagree. I know this is controversial; no one wants to see my meal being saturated by my saliva and ground up into tiny pieces by my teeth–totally gross, but I have a small mouth, okay? I need that extra wiggle room, otherwise I risk sustaining a serious tongue or cheek bite injury, and we all know how much that hurts. I promise I’m not going to stick out my tongue and show you the current state my dinner in the chewing process. I know that means the occasional barrage of spit from that little hole under my tongue is going to spray everywhere and bits of half-chewed spaghetti shrapnel may hit you in the eye. Please, fellow diners, do the courteous thing and look the other way.

Licking Your Fingers
You mean to tell me I’m supposed to let the precious crumbs or sauce that somehow made their way onto my fingers go to waste? You must be out of your mind. No, I’m not wiping all that excess on a napkin that will then sit stained on my lap for the duration of the meal. Where I come from, you savor every last bite, whether it’s on the plate or on your phalanges and wedged under your nails. I’ve noticed recently that people have gotten more sensitive about sticking more than one finger in your mouth at once, too. I see nothing wrong with sticking my entire hand up in there; let’s just finish it all at once.

Nah.harlem world mag
Nah.
harlem world mag

Reaching Across the Table
I don’t care if it’s pepper, butter, or mashed potatoes, if I think it’s reasonably within my reach, I’m going for it–that’s just the kind of go-getter I am. I don’t care if my elbow gets two inches from someone’s face or if my ridiculously long necklace grazes the cherry tomatoes atop the salad–if I can avoid asking someone to “pass” something, I’m carpe diem-ing dining. In my opinion, it’s poor etiquette to request that someone stop talking, drinking, or cutting up their meatloaf mid-meal just to hand off the ketchup like some kind of culinary Olympic torch. Keep eating, I’ll just climb across the table–no big deal!

Using Utensils
Forks are useless most of the time, except for where pasta is concerned. Think about this one: I know we need spoons to scoop things up, but forks are most commonly used to stab things and bring them to our mouths. And knives for cutting things into smaller pieces? …Have you ever heard of taking bites? I have ten fingers and a mouth that accomplishes everything that forks and knives do just as well, if not better. So yeah, I use my hands like the Neanderthals did. In my opinion, by using silverware as sparingly as possible, I’m saving my host the trouble of washing more dishes. When I have people over and they’re dropping knives all over the floor, requesting three additional spoons or a spork, I silently wish they’d give up this meal-time masquerade and just eat like they do when no one’s looking. So, veggies, whole pieces of fried chicken breast, deep dish pizza: hands, hands, hands again.

Remember: beyond the canine, it's time to leave the table.Family Dental Health
Remember: beyond the canine, it’s time to leave the table.
Family Dental Health

Picking Your Teeth
I hate when I feel things are wedged between my teeth, visible or not. I feel like I can’t be myself.Β Some people have the same aversion to teeth-picking as they do picking your nose, but really, I think picking your teeth is a much less severe offense. I suggest instead of banning teeth-picking altogether, we just set some ground rules. No, it’s not a good look to be sticking your hand knuckle-deep down your pie-hole to extract a corn kernel from your molars, but removing some broccolli from between your upper canine and incisor? Totally fair game!Β New rule: anything beyond the canine, go to the restroom and get some floss.

Elbows on the Table
I’ve never understood the logic of this one–how is this rude? Since you insist I properly cut up my food, how am I supposed to do that without my elbows resting on the table for leverage? This is how spills happen. You’ll be trying so hard to slice up a particularly tough piece of roast beef while desperately avoiding offending anyone by keeping your elbows on the table, when suddenly that stubborn piece of beef will go flying into the mashed potatoes spilling your drink on its catapulting journey. …Let’s also not forget, it looks intensely creepy when you’re sitting at the table with your arms akimbo hovering above the table surface, and there’s something pitifully sullen about having your hands in your lap.

I guess my nonexistent dreams of being debutante are dashed. I’ll never be invited to lavish dinner parties. …It’s all worth it to save my mouth from eating-related injuries and my elbows from the strain of floating during an entire meal. I’m sitting here taking bites out of an entire three pound ham as I write this. I’ll leave you with that.

79 thoughts on “The Upsetiquette of Table Manners

  1. Eat and let eat, I always say. Soooo…. you have no problem with sticking all of your fingers in you rmouth at once. Have you tried sticking your fist in your mouth? (If so, were you successful?) These are the things my inquiring mind wants to know. By the way, in the Philippines, you’re encouraged to eat with your fingers rather than utensils. The belief is that food tastes better coming from the hand (natural oils and salts add flavor). Of course should you participate in this practice it’s important to wash your hands before and after the meal…and don’t pick your butt in between. πŸ˜‰

    1. I knew you’d ask that about the fist, Kitt. But like I said, my mouth is small–it doesn’t fit. …I’ve tried for research purposes, only! I’d need that mouth expander orthodontists use to put braces on their patients…

      And thank you for the context! Now when someone raises an eyebrow about me using my fingers, I’ll inform them I’m observing Filipino tradition!

      1. LOL! You could always really mess with their heads and just say you’re Filipina. And whatever you do, make sure to clarify that you’re observing traditions from the old country. The ones born and raised here are not very likely to participate in that kind of food fun.

  2. you are talking about me…
    why? im starving I want to eat why all the manners?
    sidenote??? I live alone!

      1. I was joking My sense of humor is dry, But table manners can geta liitle out of hand!

  3. I was eating my morning yogurt when I started reading this, and actually when people don’t chew with their mouth closed it kind of makes me squicky. But other than that, I agree with these. I try to be discreet about licking my fingers or picking my teeth, but still…necessary. πŸ˜›

    I have heard that it’s acceptable to have one elbow on the table at a time, not both, and as long as the actual elbow isn’t touching, you’re fine. So, you can use your forearm for leverage instead of your elbow.

    1. Some people make a spectacle of themselves with the open-mouth eating, but I’m not one of them! …Or so I think.

      Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. Let me ask you this, if you rest your arms on the edge of a table too long, do you ever get those unsightly lines on your forearms? I think we need to take that into consideration!

      1. Oh definitely get those! They hurt too, actually. But this is coming from the girl who regularly wakes up with pillow lines on her face, so…. *shrugs* πŸ™‚

      2. ME TOO! And our couch has seams on the cushions, so wear shorts and sit for any length of time, and you come away with striped legs.

  4. I’m with you on most of these. The reaching is one thing, though. If you have to get all up in my bubble to grab something I’d rather you ask me to pass it to you. I don’t like people all up in my bubble uninvited.

    1. I hear that. Like, if you were just using the pepper, and it’s behind your glass of water safely in your plate perimeter, you have to ask.

      1. Precisely. Unless you’re one of the few people I WANT in my bubble. Then by all means invade my space.

      2. I’m an old-fashioned gal. The only thing I want up in my grill when I’m sitting down eating, is something that came off the grill…

  5. As far as I know, according to Victorian table manners hands in your lap is as taboo as elbows on the table. Wonder if hands on your head at the table would be okay?

    1. HA! And really? I’ve never heard of that. Since we’re getting into the details, I think these elbow/lap rules could only possibly be valid if you’re seated in a chair with arms. But if you’re in a booth or an armless chair? No dice.

  6. Manners are important to know because my family would still kill me today if I did anything wrong. I agree with you that many of the things you spoke off make no sense anymore, I especially love your take on the fork. Perhaps it is time for the rise of the spork, the utensil that is half spoon half fork, all fun? I think so. I have a really hard time keeping elbows off the table, it is my natural and comfortable position for talking while eating, but I still manage most of the time. Thank you for the great article.

    1. I have never been in a situation where I though to myself, gee, I could really use a spork right now… Though maybe it could be useful for cheesecake. You’ve just given me a brilliant idea about silverware and it’s uses. Thanks for that and stay tuned…

      In the meantime, keep putting your elbows on the table.

  7. This just made my day! I’ve never been well versed in table etiquette, either, so it’s nice to hear someone else making the same points I’ve been trying to argue for years!

    1. Yay! I just feel like we could be concentrating our etiquette efforts in so many other, more worthwhile areas of life… Like in the movie theater restroom for instance. That’s where we need etiquette!

  8. I think you stole uh borrowed this from the Bitter manual of bitter manners. It’s okay though because I have no intellectual property. I would have to have intellect to have property.

      1. As you may or may not know, I control the Supreme Court of Bitterness. There isn’t one judge in that court I don’t control. I will have it thrown out of court and you can keep your blog post.

  9. I’m ok with all but the eating with the mouth open. I’ve ended relationships at one dinner date with women for that reason and it’s non negotiable. Animals eat with their mouths open because they’re stupid animals. Don’t be a stupid animal. My boss at work is allegedly an intelligent human being and he holds his fork like a child still. It drives me bonkers! Lol.

    1. I need all the mouth real estate I can get! That’s all! I don’t smack my lips or make a bunch of noise about it. I’m a very discreet uncouth lady…

      About the fork, I’ve heard from many they’ve never seen anyone hold a pen the way I do, so we can assume I’m holding silverware improperly, too.

      1. Hahahaha! All part of my plan!

        But I’ll explain: Weezer isn’t one of the bands that I think of when I name my favorite bands. And yet, everytime I listen to them, I think, “Wow, this is actually pretty damn good.”

        Same thing with eating Arbys

      2. Ahhh. Now I understand the correlation! You know, I don’t eat much fast food, when I see Arby’s advertisements I don’t think it looks that bad. Plus, they’ve got the curly fries, right? Those, I love.

        That Weezer song “Beverly Hills” is awful, though. That’s the only one coming to mind right now.

  10. I made the mistake of reading this while eating lunch at my desk.

    The upside? Your knack for descriptive imagery is incomparable.
    The downside? My appetite has subsided β€” but not before a piece of poorly cut chicken got wedged in my forever-alone permanent retainer.

    Bravo!

    1. HA! I am so sorry. I’m sure the under-tongue spit remark may have done it… (I write this staring at my monitor with tiny specks of apple juice on it…)

  11. I’m all for carpe diem-ing dining! I will go out of my way to avoid asking anyone to pass something.
    But I LOVE the fork. If I could carry around a spare fork everywhere I would (wait, I can. I should do that!). I will eat everything with a fork, even soup if it’s possible. No knives, they’re stupid.

    1. Knives are stupid. But forks aren’t that much better! What is it, the tines? What do forks have that makes everyone like them so much?

  12. I seriously scanned down and looked for elbows on the table, because it’s a huge pet peeve of mine that it’s considered rude. No one has ever been able to give me a satisfying answer to the question “why on earth is that rude?”

    1. I know! Are elbows dirty or something?! Is it because we lean on them all day it brings germs to the dinner table? I just made that up. Either way, it’s ridiculous.

  13. I don’t get the elbow thing either; especially if we’re sitting there waiting on our food & are working on the bread. The more engaged in the convo I am, the more I lead forward & the more likely i am to place my elbows on the table… Keeping my hands in my lap is like saying I’m ready to leave, I’ll be able to grab a purse in a cinch…

    1. Oh yeah, for sure. My natural position is to have my forearms laying on the table in some capacity. It’s just one of those weird things I don’t like feeling like I should be conscious of, you know? Just let me eat–elbows or no elbows!

  14. Hahaha this was really funny…u are really something…glad i got to read this. I Imagine you in China trying to eat rice with those two sticks hahaha…someone in China would loose an eye for passing you the sticks i suppose…lol …you would invent “stick-to-eye” over there ..lol

    1. Oh goodness, don’t even get me started on chopsticks! I will never figure those out, and I’ve sincerely tried. I’m just not that dexterous.

  15. The cheek bite gets me every time! It’s the worst!

    You are totally uncouth Katie – remind me to invite you to my next dinner party

  16. I’ve never thought that talking with your mouth full is a big deal. As long as you can tuck the food away in your cheek long enough to insert a wise and witty comment into the conversation, there’s no need to wait until you have chewed and swallowed the food to speak. If you wait, the opportune moment to contribute your valuable insight into the conversation might pass.

    1. Exactly! If I have a great comment to make, I can’t miss the chance to share it just because I have a mouthful of mashed potatoes. I’m notorious for doing that thing where I shield my mouth with my hand while I dive into a monologue mid-chew.

  17. For shame Katie! LOL

    I’m guilty of all the above, especially the elbows. I refuse to be uncomfortable. If I want to lay all over the table, then the table is where I will make my nest.

    Represent!

  18. I always thought the elbow rule was dumb. As a result, it’s one of the only rules my mom taught me that just never stuck. It only really makes sense at a very tightly peopled table. Or maybe if it’s something formal and there are an excess of bread plates.

    That said, I am having a very hard time picturing you cutting things with your elbows on the table. Because if your elbows are on the table, then your hands are up, and to cut, your hands need to be down. Do your arms do something else? Or do you have really long hands and really flexible wrists? Am I picturing this all wrong? So confused!!!!!! (I am sitting here trying to figure this out by mime and my husband is giving me weird looks now.)

    1. After taking this to a focus group filled with people of varying arm lengths, you’re right…

      I also just tried miming this with the coffee table and the actual kitchen table–I have no idea where I got that, now. These days, I really only eat at a formal dinner table when I’m at a restaurant–at home I’m usually eating from the couch or in bed, and clearly I’ve forgotten the mechanics of arms… I do rest my elbows on my legs when I’m eating things from the couch, and I’m sitting Indian-style.

      1. OH MY GOSH. I just tried again at work, and I succeeded. My desk is a corner-type, and it works! I think it’s a matter of the surface width at the table you’re at.

    1. See, just because I advocate chewing with your mouth open doesn’t mean I encourage disgusting sounds, too. I don’t mind some crunching noises, but cow-like smacking should be avoided. I also get annoyed when people using a straw can’t come to terms with the fact that their drink is gone–it’s just ice down there, buddy. It’s all over.

    1. Goodness gracious, when did you guys start taking my blog so literally!

      But yes! In the case of finger-licking my mouth expands just for that purpose.

  19. I’m actually always trying to follow most of these rules, more or less successfully, but my pet peeve is the multiple forks, the salad one, and the… the second one. If they are exactly the same (and I probably can’t afford the places where they are different anyway), what’s the difference in which order to use them?

  20. Ha, oh my God, I can’t stand the finger licking and mouth open, not because of the visual, but rather the audio. I’ve got super sensitive ears and all that sloshing and squeeking can put me off a meal altogether. I admit this is really my problem, but yeah, can’t deal with it.

    I’m can pull off table manners pretty well when needed. In fact this post actually made me realize just how bloody polite my dining habits are! I could probably manage dinner with the queen, except I wouldn’t know what to do with the 400 hundred different forks.

    I say each to their own πŸ™‚ Oh and you must have small hands if you can fit the whole thing in your small mouth!

    Rohan.

    1. I really try not to make too much noise! It just takes so much more effort to consciously keep my mouth shut and chew, and then I can’t even enjoy the meal. I suppose I could have good table manners, but… It’s just not that high on my list of priorities.

      1. Oh I know, I hate the idea of forcing people to do some outdated crap “just because”. Definitely more pressing issues at hand!

        And I’m sure you’re not too noisy πŸ™‚ A little squelching sure beats a bit tongue or cheek, damn I hate that feeling!! *shudders*

        Rohan.

  21. A) You can now buy Arby’s curly fries in the freezer section of your neighborhood Wal-Mart or grocer (I’ve gotten them from Food Lion, otherwise, you’ll have to check)

    B) Why forks? Allow me to enlighten you. Knives are dangerous. You could seriously hurt yourself or someone else with them, but forks? Why, forks are simply a deterrent.
    I’m serious about my food. And greedy. I will not share my food with you, no matter how hungry, cute, young or old you happen to be. If you try to force me to share by reaching in the vicinity of my plate, I will stab you with my fork, because it could possibly be considered attempted murder, or at minimum, assault, if I stabbed you with my knife. I’ve considered using a taser, but your involuntary electricity-induced seizures could possibly cause me to spill my plate. And then I’d have to stab you. πŸ˜‰

    C) As for the phone thing, that’s a serious pet peeve of mine. Not its quiet, unobtrusive presence on the table, but the person who MUST answer everything they receive (texts, e-mail, phone calls, Facebook alerts) while we’re having dinner. The more casual the meal, the less it bothers me, but really?! Outside of having a relative at death’s door, you can’t take an hour out of your socially bloated life to focus on the person sitting directly in front of you, who has taken the time out of their own life to spend with you? (not ‘you’ personally, just people in general)
    Like I said, I don’t mind it sitting there, unless you’ve got so much going on with it that if I close my eyes I could imagine I was in the middle of an arcade being serenaded by a jukebox with a stutter. Phones come with a silent mode for a reason. If your shit’s constantly going nuts, put it in your purse, check it when we take turns going to the bathroom or something. If you generally have a quiet, well behaved phone that can successfully master the ‘Be seen and not heard’ principle, by all means, leave it on the table.

    Just sayin’ πŸ˜‰

    Your blog is awesome. I love the tone of your posts. I love your wit, your sarcasm, and your no-nonsense approach. You’re me, but funnier.

    1. Wait… WHAT!? Next you’ll tell me I can get Wendy’s Frostys somewhere else, too. What is Food Lion? I hope it’s a grocery store when you fight a lion to get your groceries.

      The stabbing with the fork–that’s true. But I think spoons are superior in scooting your food closer toward you and further from the edge of the plate where it might be sampled by your friends/family. I could write a whole essay praising spoons. Maybe I will someday.

      I can’t understand why anyone ever has their phone’s volume on unless they’re listening to music at full volume and they’re expecting the doctor to call with pregnancy test results. I mean, really? Your obnoxious text tone? The inevitable 40 phone calls that will come in just because your phone can sense its audible? Calm down, bro.

      It piques my curiosity to see someone’s phone lighting up, but I usually mind my bidness, if you know what I’m sayin’. I have a friend that doesn’t do this. “WHO’S THAT?” “YOU’RE GETTING TEXTS.” Thanks, bitch, I’m aware. Back up.

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoy it. I can tell we’re going to be WordPress BFFs.

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