Vintage Grandmother’s wisdom: The Dinner Party.
Company’s coming! Grab the cloth napkins and get them ironed. Seriously, do they do this stuff, now? In the past, mothers and proper grandmothers maintained precise rules for polite society. Ah, to have a clear handbook on how to navigate any social situation. Vintage Grandmother was quite firm when guests came to dinner.
Does the “Company always gets the best” rule still apply?
- Chipped plate. In the past, not even a pause for consideration, the youngest girl child gets any chipped dishes when company comes to eat. If there is no girl child, the chipped plate is placed at the mother’s place at the table. Why? Small boys obviously have an embarrassing tendency to clownishly blurt things out for attention. So chipped dishes, out of fear, were never place in front of them. (You wouldn’t want guests to think badly of the family: that they were sloppy or poor.) Although adults always came first, adult men were never served on chipped dishes. Women and girls were taught to hide flawed dishes from guests by carefully turning the dish or subtle placement of napkins. All to maintain the illusion of table perfection and good manners during dinners with guests.
- Bent forks, mismatched silverware, and mismatched glassware followed the same rule as above.
- Although one chipped cup might be used if necessary, lofty grandmother’s voice echoes in memory: “a cracked or chipped glass must be discarded immediately for health and safety reasons.” This rule should be followed until eternity…but who is teaching it? (What? Lots of “glasses” are now plastic? Solves that problem? Hmmm. Check on that. Plastic drinking containers may have their own health hazards, cracked or not….Anyway, back to the past.)
- Similar rules existed for any cooking fiasco: Not enough tomatoes for all salads? Just put fewer, or none, in the youngest girl child’s or the mother’s salad. Guess who gets the over done piece of meat or slightly scorched veggie? Just following tradition. Besides you would want to hide the cooking flaws to avoid gossip in the neighborhood! (Or is it hopeless that any child today would keep quiet about marred food on their plate?)
- Of course, bread or rolls are never used to “sop” up gravy or meat juice around the plate. (Unless hillbilly acres? Besides, you end up with greasy fingers…stains those cloth napkins.)
- Before a “company dinner” possible topics of conversation should be discussed. Background reading of newspapers, books, or respectable magazines may be necessary prior to dinner in order to be able to discuss intelligently current events and topic. (Surely the internet with YouTube, and TV’s Extra! Extra! or TMZ would be comparable here?)
- Polite conversation should be made in cheerful, moderate tones. Never talk about politics, religion at the table. (Uh, so… what to say? Oh, see above.)
- Illnesses are unsuitable for dinner conversations ( Seriously, there’s red meat, and knives on the table and people are chewing.)
- References to or about unfortunate incidents of body functions should be politely ignored. (No loud exclamations of “Whew, who cut that fart loose?” Or making unhappy faces with wrinkled noses.) Loud belches are not considered compliments for a good meal. (But really funny? Not! Discouraging scowl applied here.)
- Children should be seen and not heard. Children only speak when addressed. When addressed, a child should finish chewing, and place hands in lap before speaking. If a child cannot be trusted to discuss polite topics, to refrain from making rude inappropriate comments, and to eat neatly with appropriate utensils, perhaps he or she should be served earlier and put in a room to read or play games quietly until the guests leave. Children may be brought to greet the guest politely and before retreating to another room. Children may be included in a dinner party if they understand attending is a privilege and should be on their best behavior. If guests also have children, the younger age group may seated and served at a separate table. The place settings should mirror the adult table and eating should be done with manners as this is still a dinner with company and not eating in a barnyard. If a child behaves inappropriately, he or she should immediately be removed from the table. Of course, this was an embarrassment for the family and a poor reflection on them. Even chewing with mouth open or talking while chewing was a serious infraction. (Any wonder why outdoor Barbecues became popular? Guess that’s why tired parents embraced McDonald’s – no formal dining rules here…although you may need ear plugs, washable clothes, and in some cases, riot gear.)
- All were cautioned about stirring coffee or tea. The spoon should never clink or clank against the side of the cup. Stir quietly and carefully without sloshing. (I’m not sure how drive-through Starbucks coffee fits in here…but it’s harder to slosh…although it can be done with effort.)
- Shoes should never be removed under the table during a meal. Smelly feet are unappetizing. (And there’s always the possibility you can’t get them back on without reaching under the table. Awkward in any time period.)
- After dinner conversations. Women leave the men to talk while they adjourn to another area – possibly the kitchen table – where they can relax and chat about topics interesting to women such as fashion or recipes. (Oh, delight. Giggles and cackling hen talk?)
- Acceptable topics of conversation for women. A lady never talks about money. How much is earned. What is spent. How much an item cost. (So, the difference between a lady, social climber, and a good ole gal…)
- Aprons are only appropriate in the kitchen. If anticipating company might arrive early, the “cook” should be fully dressed including heels. A “Nice/company” half apron of net or starched organza without stains, should be tied around the waist and removed when leaving the kitchen. It is preferred that visible dish towels match or compliment the “nice” apron. (Everyday aprons are best when “full bib style” to cover most of the torso, and made of cotton to easily be washed, starched and ironed.) Surprisingly, aprons may be currently spotted in Anthropologie. Many consider an apron the symbol of the philosophy that women should stay in the kitchen. But many career women only see apron with nostalgia, as cute item. Whatever. They should avoid the ones with red cotton. Trust me. Red cotton is unstable and may turn an entire wash pink. Some things never change.
- Many dinner guests wish to bring something for the hostess such as flowers. Women should always strive to ensure their guests feel comfortable and to avoid unpleasant situations which sometimes occur. Miss Manners, who harkens back to a gentle era, offers some timely suggestions concerning a guest insists on arriving with a prepared dish or dessert. (I mean, if ya’ don’t want to eat what I cooked, why did ya’ come at all?)
Now if you’ve made it through all that, let’s eat – with style!
(Related posts: “Hats off for the Little Ladies”, Vintage Grandmother’s Rules for Proper Ladies”)
Enjoying a relaxed brunch,
Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge