Life in the Kitchen

Manners maketh sense. Well, most of them.


Remember the table manners your mom and dad taught you?

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” “Don’t eat so fast.” “Don’t lick your knife.” “Don’t slurp your drink.” “Take that snake back to your bedroom.” We like those rules – they all make sense.

But there are others that we think are odd. Like: Always tilt your soup bowl away from you.

This is the rule according to Debretts, the etiquette experts, famous for being the arbiters of good manners.

“But why may I not tilt my soup bowl away from me?” you ask. “Do I tilt it away from me so that everyone can see my pretty starter? Is it rude to conceal my minestrone by tilting it towards me? What madness is this?”

We agree. We say tilt the bowl whichever way you like. There are other, much ruder breaches of table etiquette.

Like pointing and gesturing with your knife. Like interrupting someone’s interesting anecdote or dad-joke. Like describing in detail your child’s potty training while we’re eating. Never do any of these things, we say. And Debretts agrees, by the way.

We agree with no stretching across the table for the salt. Ask someone to pass it, or better still, if it’s your table, have more than one set of salt and pepper, to eliminate the annoying passing to and fro.

And please don’t use your hands to take food from the bowl. We don’t mean taking a banana from a fruit bowl – we’re talking about roast potatoes, cooked carrots, and fried sausages.

True, we’re a braaiing culture, and when it’s a casual braai, hands are involved. But for a more formal table, serving spoons are your friend.

The rule is, don’t put your fingers on food that you’re not planning to eat.

Never do any of these things, we say.

Also, remember, Debretts, this is Africa, so excuse us if we eat boerewors, braaied chops, buttery mieles, syrupy koeksusters and a whole lot of other food with our hands.

What about chopsticks for Chinese food? Well, Jerry Seinfeld says: “You gotta hand it to the Chinese. They’ve seen the fork, but they’re sticking with the chopsticks.” Some of us bravely use the sticks, even at home, but guess what? The Chinese restaurants we know really aren’t offended if you use a fork.

What about sushi? Well as South Africans, you’ll be happy to know that it’s acceptable to eat sushi with your hands, but that habit you have of drenching your maki roll in soy sauce, then adding ginger to it before eating it? That’s apparently not The Way.

Is it okay to wear a hat at the table?

The etiquette experts say no. We can’t see why it’s rude, but unless you cover your head for cultural or religious reasons, why wear a hat at the table? We’re looking at you, baseball cap and beanie fans. Every self-respecting cowboy takes his hat off when he steps inside.

And what about the elbows off the table rule? Well, maybe, but why? Is it really that awful?

Remember, much of our dining etiquette was originally dictated over a century ago, by the same people who insisted on full evening dress for dinner, every evening, á la Downtown Abbey. These lords and ladies made the ‘no elbow’ rule, and declared that the soup bowl should be tilted away from one’s body.

So we say when it comes to table manners, use some common sense and consideration – or ask your great aunt.


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