The Futility of Table Manners

Generally speaking, I try to be a reasonably civilized person and adhere to the local customs and mores. I realize that culture is a locally derived set of rules that are neither better nor worse than the rules used elsewhere. In one part of the world, for example, everyone decides that chopsticks will be the norm while in another knives and forks are required.

However, as far as I’m concerned, people with too much time on their hands (and money – otherwise they’d have to spend that time at work) have decided that THEY get to make up the rules.

I say that this is America, and as a democratic republic we should take back the table manners decisions from the one percent and give them back to the ninety-nine percent. Maybe the protests against Wall Street didn’t work, but here is a cause worth fighting for! Why do they get to impose their dumb rules on the rest of us?

Let’s talk about tableware first. There is no reason, and I mean none, for having 37 forks, 6 spoons and a complete set of Ginsu knives for each place at the table. While the knives will get conversations started among the men, leading first to comparing pocket knives and ultimately to discussions about firearms, it’s just not necessary. Why, for example do restaurants provide a butter knife and then serve a pat of butter that has been frozen in liquid nitrogen to the consistency of a granite counter top? Usually you either break the butter knife or launch the pat of butter like some deadly cryogenic tiddlywink.

I’ve seen some tables set with so many utensils that every other seat was unoccupied because all the room was taken up with the neighbors’ hardware. I guess it’s to impress us that they have staff to wait on them, because no normal person has time, energy or a large enough dishwasher to handle all that stuff.

Proper place setting calls for the forks (all or most of the 37) to be placed on the left, and all the knives, with the possible exception of the butter knife and the K-Bar to be placed on the right, inboard of the spoons. However, most people hold their fork in their right hand, switching it to the left hand when using a knife for cutting food. Now, before you tell me that sophisticated people hold the fork in their left hand let me point out that our founding fathers intentionally migrated away from the manner in which Europeans in general and the British in particular did things. They replaced the bow with the handshake. They used the right hand for the fork. Unfortunately the manners police didn’t rearrange the flatware to accommodate this.

The consumption of soup has caused more families to break up than a fling with Kat von D. It is simply impossible to eat soup when it’s hot without accompanying sound effects. The only alternative is to wait until it’s too cold to be tasty, at which time it can be placed into the mouth without second and third degree burns. The Japanese kicked our butts on this one by deciding that soup should be sipped directly from the bowl. Speaking of which, you know as well as I do that the experts on manners secretly relish early morning breakfasts before anyone else is awake as they happily drink the sugared up cereal milk right out of the bowl. It makes them feel positively wicked.

Finally, there’s the incomprehensible rule calling for no elbows on the table. The chair and the table are specifically engineered to place the table at the perfect height for elbows. There is absolutely no functional reason for not putting elbows on the table. The only thing that I can figure is that the manners police were keeping the area clear in case they developed even more metal tools. Since the top and both sides of the plate are already taken, only the space between the plate and the diner remained.

So, why do I bring all this up? I’ve decided that this is the reason that Americans have such a fondness for fast food. Most of it is eaten without utensils, and by using the drive through even the table can be avoided. Cleanup is quick and easy with everything remaining after the meal tossed into the trash. It’s the only thing that makes sense.


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