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Questions on Manners & Etiquette

Difficulties at the Table & Adult Dinners

Judith Mead & Marian Horvat

A Bite too Tough to Swallow

Question: What is the proper thing to do when you are eating a steak and get a bite that is too tough to chew? Do you remove it with your fork or your napkin? Where do you put it? Or, do you just swallow it whole?

Thanks for your help.

Answer:
There is no reason to swallow or struggle with a piece of gristle or tough meat at the table. There is a very simple rule about how to deal with food you would like to remove from your mouth and return to the plate: If it went in with your fork, it should come out with your fork (e.g. meat); likewise, if it went in with your hand, it should be removed with your fingers (e.g. olive pit).

In the case of the piece of meat, move it to your tongue and onto the fork and deposit it on the external rim of your plate. It is the most discreet way to do this, because the fork-to-mouth motion is a common one made by anyone who is eating and can be done quite inconspicuously. However, if the other guests are looking at you, just remove the food by covering your mouth with your hand to save them from any unpleasant sight, say a discreet “excuse me,” and deposit that difficult piece on the rim of your plate, the same way as above.

The same rule applies to fish bones or small chicken bones: take them with your fork and bring them to the rim of your plate.

In the case of olives, if eating olives by hand, you may discreetly remove the pit with your cupped hand and deposit it on your small dining plate. Never spit food into your napkin. Where olives are part of a salad, they are treated like the rest of the salad and taken in by the fork and the pit deposited on the fork to be returned to the rim of the plate.



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When Children Are Not Invited

Question: My husband and I were invited to a Christmas Eve party after midnight Mass at the home of a couple who do not have children. Invitations were sent, and only the names of my husband and me were on the invitation. I called and told them we would be there. I naturally assumed our children (2 boys, 3 girls – ages 5-12) were also invited, since Christmas is a family night and we always attend midnight Mass together. We were shocked when we arrived, and there were no children, and no places set for them.

The hostess arranged a little table apart from the adults, and I had to sit with them so they would be supervised. I was very offended, and we left immediately after eating (It was a very nice meal, elegantly presented and served), although much less elegant at my small table, set up impromptu.

My husband said I should have realized the children were not invited and refused the invitation. I think it should have been specifically stated somewhere on the invitation – “Please do not bring your children” or “Adults only.” Do you agree?

Also it seems very rude to set up a separate table for the children and ask me to sit with them there. I felt humiliated. There were some empty places at the large table and they could have fit in comfortably with a small adjustment to the table seating arrangement, and my husband and I would have watched them carefully.

Could you please comment on this?


Answer: A written invitation is directed to the persons the hosts want to invite – and no one else. That is the rule. Unless you are a close relative or intimate friend, you should not even call to ask, “May I bring my children or a house guest?” Certainly, you should never assume that children or house guests are invited. In passing, let us remember, a written invitation should be answered in writing, unless specified; an oral invitation - made personally or by phone - should be answered the same way.

Some invitations may indicate you can invite a guest (Miss Ann Waller and guest), and when you reply you should state whether you are bringing someone and include the name of the person to assist the hostess with the place settings at the table. If the invitation includes children, it will say (Mr. and Mrs. George Smith and children); if it does not, it means the children are not invited. There is no need for the hosts to specify on the invitation “Adults only” or “No children, please.”

In the child-centered ambience of our days, some parents wrongly assume that children should be welcome at every table, lending the charm of their chatter and cuteness to the adult conversation. In fact, we hold fast to the rule that dinner parties intended for adults should be limited to adults.

Your hostess was kind to accommodate your children’s unexpected presence and did not broach any rules of protocol by setting up a separate table for them, with you to supervise. We do not think you should be offended, but grateful that the accommodation was made.

We hope you do not harbor any grudge against your hosts and, instead, will see this as an opportunity to learn to be more careful in the future and not make assumptions about who is or who is not invited to a formal dinner or party. Whoever is invited is named specifically in the invitation.

The normal solution for your case would be to drop off the children at home and go to the party or ask a friend or babysitter to drive the children back from Church to your house. If you were unable or unwilling to make such arrangement, then it would be better to not accept the invitation.

Posted January 4, 2012

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