My kids have terrible table manners. I’m sorry to rat them out on a radio program broadcasted across the entire state of Utah and southern Idaho, but there it is. Some days, I wonder if my son imagines he is at boot camp with only a few seconds to shovel in every last bite before a drill sergeant bellows, “Get up and give me 10!”
Still, I try. During family dinners, I remind them to sit up a little straighter, please say "please," and to rest assured their food is not going to sprout legs and run away. For young children, upright posture and relaxed dinner conversation do not rank high on their priority lists. No, the top three to-do items are usually "jump on the trampoline." But, I keep trying because I know we’ll get there. Some day.
During the Coronavirus Stay Home Meals of 2020, we have ample opportunities to practice table manners. So, I wondered, should I really harp on everyone to keep their elbows off the table? Should I go the extra mile and encourage them to butter their rolls one bite at a time? I realize etiquette often evolves to match the social needs and sensibilities of its day. What are the most important table manners to drill home now, as long as it takes?
It looks like the Emily Post Institute has an answer for us with its list of Top Ten Table Manners. Among the guidelines there are no real surprises. It looks like we still need to chew with our mouths closed, avoid slouching, and ask for foods to be passed rather than reaching across the table. Also, we should use a napkin, cut food one piece at a time, and wait until we’re done chewing to sip or swallow a drink, though there is an exception for choking. And, yes, Emily’s adherents still advise keeping your elbows off the table while you’re eating. Though, other etiquette experts contend it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, just general decency to avoid encroaching on the personal space of other diners.
In a nod to modern-day habits, the top ten list also includes advice to keep our smartphones off the table and set to silent. While this rule could be a bit hard to swallow for that cute, little narcissist in all of us, it still makes good sense. We can all check texts or updates once we are finished with the meal and away from the table. Even if you’re very popular, or very important, or very interested in seeing who liked your post of said meal on social media. Given the germs our mobile devices pick up in a regular day’s work, they really don’t have a spot at the coronavirus-free dinner table anyway.
Speaking of which, we’re already hearing predictions for how we will live and travel when the insidious virus has run its course. So, how could table manners evolve? Our family tackled the idea after lunch today, going on our 61st consecutive meal all together.
Here is our list of the top five table manners for a post COVID-19 world:
Number one: Wash your hands before you eat, also wash your hands while you’re eating, and wash your hands whenever the thought of the possibility of eating happens to enter your mind. While you’re at it, go ahead and wash your hands while you watch episodes of your favorite cooking show, just to be safe.
Number two: Remove your face mask before you eat. To avoid contamination, do not place the used face covering on the table, or in your purse, or in your pocket. We’re not sure where you should put it. Are you really that hungry any way?
Number three: No sharing! If someone eyes a tasty morsel on your plate, scowl suspiciously and fold your arms over your meal, mantling your food like a bird of prey protecting its catch from potential thieves. Take note: In this case, placing elbows on the table is permitted and encouraged.
Number four: If that same someone coughs, quickly slide your plate, utensils, and yourself to the other room.
And finally, number five: This one is from my son--if you need to cough, cough in your elbow, but not your arm elbow; instead, cough into your ‘leg elbow.’ You know, the spot behind your knee? He’s young enough to contort into the position to do it. And if he can do that, I’m confident he can handle good old-fashioned table manners as well.