Table Manners: Downton Abbey Style

This entry is part 12 of 15 in the series: Mind Your Manners with Nathalie Findlay

Table manners are a very good way to ensure a meal runs smoothly, so the fine folks can focus on delightful banter and the cheese soufflé.

Here are a few tips that will help make you shine brighter than the silver butter dish.

SALT

When you’re asked for the salt, always pass it along with the pepper.  Did I say pass it? I really mean lay it on the table within reach of the person who asked for it.  It’s an old superstition either to do with the pecuniary value of salt or the fact that it resembles arsenic, but in any case, passing it from hand to hand will result in severed ties between the parties involved (or in more extreme cases, death).  If you don’t believe me, check out da Vinci’s Last Supper—Judas spilled a little something.  I’ll let you guess what it was (hint: in addition to the beans).

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Salt cellars are frequently lined with cobalt glass as salt will pit the silver if they are put in direct contact for an extended period of time … which is the pits. The tiny spoon is not a souvenir to take home, but in its absence, pinch what you need.

As much as you love salt, never salt your dish prior to tasting it; it implies you aren’t even giving the cook a chance to have done a good job seasoning.

SEATING

Until the hostess is seated, gentlemen, you have only one job to do and that is to look nonchalant while standing by the chair you have been appointed and pretend you are just casually admiring the elegantly laid table, not too keen to jump into your seat, but attentive enough to get the pivotal moment just right then hold the chair out for your dinner partner.  It’s not as easy as you might think.  Ladies can, only if they are invited to do so, take their seats before the hostess, in order to admire the table more closely.  Once the hostess has finally sat down, then you may do likewise. Same goes for tucking in, wait until she has helped herself to the first bite.  If she doesn’t keel over or scream with third degree burns, then go ahead and start.

 

NAPKINS

I guess something happened one day when there was a lot of wind and someone decided it would make sense to place a fork upon the napkin to keep it from landing in the neighbour’s pool.  Well, please do not do that.  It’s all sorts of wrong. Once you have picked up a piece of cutlery, a fork, for example, it does not go back onto the table for the duration of the meal. So how you are supposed to get your napkin out from under the fork to put it on your lap is anyone’s guess. Napkins can be presented on the charger, to the left of the plate or upon the bread plate if there is one.  Never under anything.  And never in a glass, unless it’s what you are serving to drink.

Did you know that prior to napkins, people just used the tablecloth?  I think that still happens on occasion, but not necessarily deliberately.

DIRECTION

Food generally gets passed from the left, which you will find is more practical when you have to serve yourself from a gigantic fish, fish pie or fish soup.  (I had fish for dinner tonight, by the way.) Consequently, when you are the first to tuck in at an informal meal, pass the dish to the person on your right … That’s anti-clockwise.  In fact, hold it for them to help themselves, then pass it to them.  Glasses, which you will note are to your right, will be filled from your right.  Do you notice a recurring theme here?  So if gentlemen will kindly fill up the glass of the lady to his LEFT, then peace and harmony will reign, spills will be averted and we all know what is what.  At a table with only women present, the hostess will undertake drinks serving, but I don’t want to complicate your life too much in one short article … we’ll discuss traditional gender roles another day.

CUTLERY

If you look back far enough into the annals of history, you’ll find that Ikea didn’t always stock four piece cutlery sets.  The term cutlery comes from Coutellerie which refers to knives in French.  (I know you knew that.) People, who likely didn’t bathe very often, would just roam around carrying their knife with them and, after wiping off their adversary’s blood, it was used, along with a dirty hand, to dine at the local castle banquet.  A whetting stone was at the door in case they needed to hone it up a bit.  And so began the expression to whet one’s appetite. And because you love facts, they frequently ate out of a trencher, which was a slice of dense bread that they ate up too. Like a burrito, only more Medieval—before they started making trenchers out of wood-which I can only suppose they stopped eating, despite being very high in fibre.

WINE/CHAMPAGNE

Always smell the cork after opening a bottle, if you are in the mood to smell some cork.  If, on the other hand, you wish to ensure the bottle isn’t corked, you should be able to do that by first looking at the cork for damage then pouring a touch of vino into a glass, airing it out a moment with a casual rotation of the wrist then inhaling. Through your nose, ideally.  If it checks out, serve your guests in order of precedence. Check with your wine merchant (or an app) to see whether the wine would be enhanced by decanting; it is not necessarily the case for all bottles. However rare, Champagne can also be corked, so taste that prior to serving.

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The bubbles that form on a Champagne flute are as a result of micro-particles of dust or imperfections which react with the wine (only the coolest kids call champagne wine, FACT) and produce nucleation (not so cool people use the word nucleation).  If your glass cleansing agent is too good, your Champers will be much less bubbly.

PORT

If you are passed a decanter of port, it could well be a hogget and thus have a rounded bottom.  So yeah, you pretty much have to keep passing it along until it’s empty because putting it down is not an option.  Just remember which is Port side, because that is where it is headed.

To finish off your meal, schmush up your napkin (neatly) and place it to the left of your plate.  Now is not the time to reapply lipstick nor shave your whiskers. But do remember to congratulate your hosts on a lovely evening.  And please explain that you were not looking at your watch because of boredom, but to find out which way was anti-clockwise.

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Nathalie Findlay

After completing a degree in Fine Arts and another in Interior Architecture, Nathalie began modelling in New York, Hamburg, Munich and Paris where she eventually decided to base herself. Always on the lookout for opportunities to grow, she combined her modelling career with other areas of interest, working for the Canadian Embassy, Christian Liaigre, A Small World and Sotheby’s. She has also enjoyed appearing regularly as a presenter and speaker for television and media events and as a pit-lane reporter on Eurosport.

Exposed both personally and professionally to the intricacies of etiquette and protocol, Nathalie now focuses on applying her extensive knowledge-base practically, addressing matters of refinement, image and manners for individual and corporate clients with Lifestyling, a consultancy she created in 2007.

Nathalie lives in the French countryside with her husband, their baby and two Korthals.

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