Sunday, November 01, 2009
Thanksgiving Day Etiquette
The days of dining by plucking fruit from trees and roasting
small animals over the fire, eating with fingers, and perhaps
fighting with others over the scraps are long gone. Or are they?
More and more we swing our car through the drive-in, grab our
food from the window, and proceed to eat with our fingers, so
perhaps you need a brush-up on the basics of formal - shall we
say "civilized" dining - before the great Thanksgiving feast.
Rules of civilized dining evolved because, according to
Margaret Visser ("Rituals of Dinner"), "animals are slaughtered
and consumed, the guest-host relationship is ... a complicated
interweaving of the imposition of obligation and the suspension
of hostility, and the ordinary table knife is related to actual
weapons of war."
Utensils were to be handled delicately, so as not to alarm. For
instance, the knife was not to be held in the fist, like a
weapon, nor pointed threateningly at anyone, and conversation
was to be gentle, not provocative.
Now for a review of the basics on how to be the consummate
1. Respect time.
Arrive on time with a smile on your face and plan to have a
good time. Leave on time. If it hasn't been stated, you will
have to use your EQ--your intuition. Watch the host (generis)
for subtle cues - the more formal the occasion, the more subtle
the cues, i.e., changing position in his chair, sighing, and
talking about "what a big day we have tomorrow." As you say you
must leave, expect protesting, and expect to leave anyway. It's
As our visits in the homes of others become more rare, the #1
complaint of hostesses seems to be that the guests won't go
home. One woman told me her guests arrived at noon and had to be
jettisoned, finally, at 10 p.m. That's not a get-together,
that's an ordeal.
2. Wear your uniform. Do your job.
Yes, as the guest you have responsibilities. Dress
appropriately and festively, and prepare to make it a happy
occasion. Note "make." It doesn't just happen; those in
attendance must make it happen. Eat, drink and behave in
3. When summoned, obey the summons.
As a long-time PR person, you can't imagine how we appreciate
the "leader type" who, when we say, "It's time to take you
seats," heads for the dining room and beckons her friends to
come along; and when the hostess says, "Shall we retire to the
living room for coffee," does the same.
4. Observe protocol.
Age before rank. "Special" people would be the
great-grandmother, then if you've invited your boss, or there's
a guest of honor. The most special person "sitteth on the right
hand" of the host and hostess, who are seated at opposite ends
of the table. If there are not place cards, it's appropriate to
ask, "Where would you like us to sit?"
5. Once seated, stay awake!
Look to your hostess to lead. At this meal even the most
unsuspecting people will say a grace, for instance. The hostess
will indicate when to start passing things, and when she starts
to eat, you may eat. Facilitate the meal for others - start
passing the shared items, the salt and pepper (both), the
butter, the cranberry sauce, and the gravy.
6. The passing of things.
If your plates are served, then when someone asks for the salt,
pick up both the salt and pepper and place them down beside the
person next to you. They are not passed hand-to-hand, and only
the requesting party may use them. Inefficient? Manners are not
7. Make conversation.
It's an active thing! At a smaller seating, there may be one
general conversation; in a larger group, talk with the people
across from you and on either side of you. If you're
conversation-challenged, work with your coach and come up with a
list of conversation-starters, i.e., Did you see that great
special on PBS last night? What are your plans for Christmas
this year? How was the traffic at the airport? What football
team are you rooting for? Start training your children young.
Help them come up with a list of things to talk about. They'll
love it and feel included.
Your hostess will appreciate if you keep the conversation
going, spend some time with the shy people or the octogenarian,
and help with awkward silences. At formal dinners, businesses
lunches and other dining occasions traditionally when the food
is served, everyone starts eating and there's a silence. Someone
needs to "break the ice." Plan for this and be prepared with a
confident and cheery, "It sure gets quiet when the food comes,"
or "Marcella, where did you find fresh arugula this time of
8. What about all those utensils and glasses?
The general rule is work from the outside in. Go here to
9. Beginnings and endings.
The napkin. When you're seated, place your napkin in your lap.
When you're finished, place your utensils on your plate; don't
push it away. Place your napkin loosely to the side of your
10. Odds 'n' Ends
Sit upward in your chair; don't lean back. Don't rest your
elbows on the table. It's permissible to lean forward slightly
and rest part of your upper arm on the table. If you take
medication, do it discretely and neither mention it nor notice
it in others. Something in your mouth you don't want? The way in
is the way out. Spit the olive pit into your palm and place it
on your plate. Deposit the turkey bone back on the fork and
place in on your plate.
What can you eat with your fingers? Artichokes, plain
asparagus, bacon, bread, cookies, corn on the cob, chips, French
Fries, hors' d'oeuvres, sandwiches, small fruits, berries, and
cubed cheese. When in doubt, wait and see what your hostess
And ... while it's important children learn etiquette, it's
also important they enjoy themselves. The gravy will come out of
the shirt when you wash it - or plan clothes where it doesn't
matter so much.
About the Author: Susan Dunn, personal life coach on all
matters, http://www.susandunn.cc firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal
coaching, business, Internet courses and ebooks.Creator of the
Difficult People course (prepare now for holidays)-
http://tinyurl.com/2xr3yg Coach cert prorgram, global. Email for
Posted by Susan Dunn, M.A. at 7:03 AM