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How to mind your (table) manners

Updated on January 1, 2017
JanTUB profile image

Jan T Urquhart Baillie has many sides to her personality, born out of a difficult life, and success due to her optimism and practical skills

Used with permission
Used with permission

Sit up straight, elbows off the table, don't reach...

I think I had table manners fed to me.

I still have an abhorrence for really bad table manners, but do we need to be formal in our everyday lives?

My mother — who would rival Hyacinth Bucket (that's boo-kay) in her efforts at keeping up appearances — was a stickler for etiquette and good manners.

We had serviettes in rings at every meal, even breakfast! Rows of cutlery each side of the plate, and the correct piece for each food was present.

That's Hyacinth (aka Patricia Rutledge) in her best hat.

Photo from freewebs [dot] com

Don't run, have a bit of decorum

Advice from my mother

Most of us learn our manners at our mother's knee. I learned many that way, but I learned how to be a lady at high school, from the nuns.

I went to boarding school, a Girls College, where manners and deportment were paramount. We learned elocution, table manners, etiquette for all the things that our lives would present us with.

Unfortunately, that style of educating girls is long gone.

I am from the era where we burned our bras and wanted equality. So men won't open doors for us, or offer to carry our heavy packages any more.

But we only wanted to be able to do jobs like them, or get paid the same when we did those jobs. We didn't expect manners to go away.

Is this the way to behave with decorum?

Don't drink tea or coffee in a mug - Use a pretty china cup, with a saucer (and a teaspoon)

My family says I 'play ladies'
My family says I 'play ladies'

Buy yourself a pretty china cup - on Amazon

Fine Bone China Teacup and Saucer - Grace's Rose Chintz
Fine Bone China Teacup and Saucer - Grace's Rose Chintz

Fancy a cup of tea, or coffee?

How nice to drink it from this pretty cup.


Manners are about respect

For yourself and others

If you are a well-mannered person, you won't hurt anyone deliberately, you will be polite and considerate of others' needs, and be genuinely interested in them, especially when they are talking with you.

Where did that go?

Children don't seem to be taught good manners, decorum or respect in this day and age. Have their parents given up, or have they forgotten why good behaviour is important for a well-ordered society?

Schools seem to not bother about manners either. Is that because it doesn't come from home anyway? Or is it relegated to the too-hard basket?

Let's bring back good (table) manners.

Love Hyacinth Boo-kay? - Get her etiquette know-how on Amazon

So where does etiquette come in?

It's the rules for good manners

If laws are to stop anarchy in society, so etiquette show us how we ought to behave in certain places, or while doing certain activities.

There are rules of etiquette for all kinds of pursuits: playing golf, eating at table, attending sporting fixtures, participating at meetings, at formal dinners, for informal dining.

The list goes on.

This would be a very long lens if I dealt with all of the rules for all of the events.

I'll just talk about some situations, and give you an insight into my mother's etiquette training for my sisters and me as we were growing up.


Did you know?

why a table knife is placed next to the plate with the blade inwards?

When knights and noblemen of old would eat their meal, they used their hunting knife as a knife and as a fork.

As it was also used as a weapon to kill things, it was kept very sharp.

If it was at the side of their eating bowl, they grabbed at it and...

...cut themselves as they grasped the blade, unless it was facing towards the food bowl.

A practical reason, like many traditions.

And that

A 16th century German preacher condemned forks as contrary to the will of God.

He claimed: "God would not have given us fingers if He had wanted us to use forks"


Tongue planted firmly in cheek

  • Mothers-in-law are mostly lovely people, but sometimes...
  • The toilet humour is not what you think...
  • And the opinions expressed on this lens, etcetera.


conventional requirements as to social behavior

So says Dictionary [dot] com


1. Etiquette, decorum, propriety imply observance of the formal requirements governing behavior in polite society. Etiquette refers to conventional forms and usages: the rules of etiquette. Decorum suggests dignity and a sense of what is becoming or appropriate for a person of good breeding: a fine sense of decorum. Propriety (usually plural) implies established conventions of morals and good taste: She never fails to observe the proprieties.

My mother had lots of don'ts

for us to live by

She didn't know about positive reinforcement.

Her lists were long, and woe betide you if you did any of the don'ts!

And of course, I did.

The don't list - for all areas of life

  • Don't speak at the top of your voice in public
  • Don't let your bra or petticoat straps show
  • Don't bite your fingernails
  • Don't talk with food in your mouth
  • Don't talk at the table
  • Don't wear undies with holes in them

    (you might be in a car crash, and what would people think!)

  • Don't chew with your mouth open
  • Don't drop your Gs: Goin', walkin', singin'.

    I can hear her say, "There's a G on the end of that word!"

  • Don't take the biggest piece on the plate
  • Don't snatch
  • Don't go out without hat and gloves (That shows my age!)
  • Don't whistle. Ladies don't whistle. Except Dame Nellie Melba, who whistled for breath control, and as I was a singer, I was sure I should whistle too.
  • Don't answer back
  • Don't contradict your elders
  • Don't sniff! Use a hanky!
  • Don't argue
  • Don't whinge
  • Don't hit your sisters
  • Don't come home late.
  • Don't get dirty — as we sit on a sooty steam train in our best dresses.
  • and on, and on, and on

Don't do that, my mother said - it's not nice!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Don't 'make an odour'Don't chew gumDon't choke your forkDon't be greedyDon't cross your legsDon't pick your noseDon't sulkDon't fightDon't wear untidy clothesDon't burp
Don't 'make an odour'
Don't 'make an odour'
Don't chew gum
Don't chew gum
Don't choke your fork
Don't choke your fork
Don't be greedy
Don't be greedy
Don't cross your legs
Don't cross your legs
Don't pick your nose
Don't pick your nose
Don't sulk
Don't sulk
Don't fight
Don't fight
Don't wear untidy clothes
Don't wear untidy clothes
Don't burp
Don't burp

Dining etiquette: formal - Mothers educate their daughters so they don't disgrace them.

Eating in a restaurant has a few rules:

  1. Wait for everyone else to be served before you start eating, unless you are in a large group, and the others at the table give permission.
  2. Work from the outside in for the cutlery beside your plate.

    Fish knife or soup spoon, butter knife, dinner knife, dessert spoon, and on the other side of the plate, the same order for the forks.

  3. Your napkin is either on your plate, in your wine glass, or beside your knives.

    As you sit, the waiter, who has drawn out your chair, will place the napkin across your lap. If the waiter does neither, unfold it and place it there yourself.

    When you have finished the meal, loosely drape the napkin and place it on your plate. Don't scrunch it up, even if it's a paper one.

  4. Your wine glass is at the point of your knife, as are the water glass, and other wine goblets.

    Your bread and butter plate is to the left of your forks.

  5. Don't cut your bread or rolls. Break them into small pieces, and spread butter on

    each piece just before you pop it into your mouth. That's why meals are called breaking bread.

    Butter is placed onto your bread and butter (side) plate, not straight onto your bread.

    We had a butter knife in our butter dish at each meal.

  6. If you are asked to pass the salt, you must pass both salt and pepper, as they are a married couple.
  7. When you hold a wine glass, use the stem for chilled wine, so it stays chilled as long as possible.

    You can hold a glass of red wine or a goblet of brandy around the bowl to warm it.

  8. Between bites, don't rest your cutlery half on the table and half on the plate.

    Always place it either side, along the edge of the plate rim, with the knife turned in, and the fork tines turned down,

    This tells the waiter not to remove your plate, providing he/she knows basic table manners, too!

  9. When you are finished eating each course your knife (blade turned inward) and fork (tines turned up) should be placed beside each other on the plate at right angles to your body.

    That way the waiter knows you're finished and will come to remove the plate. Never push your plate away, or 'tidy' the table when you have eaten your meal.

  10. Always say, "Excuse me?" if you need to leave the table for any reason.

    Don't announce where you are headed.

  11. Stay at the dinner table until the host is ready to leave. (Unless you have arranged with them to leave earlier.)
  12. Thank the head waiter and the table waiter/s for their service.

    Ask the head waiter to give your compliments to the chef.

Formal table setting - Like we had when company came

Image from Wikipedia

Dining etiquette: informal - At home

We always had a tablecloth, even at breakfast. I still do, even when I'm camping — a source of great merriment for our fellow travellers, and my children.

  1. Wait until everyone is at the table before you start eating.
  2. Use the same rules as for formal dining for how to place your knife and fork.
  3. Eat at the table, not on your lap! As if we would dare.
  4. Have conversations with the rest of the people at the table.

    We were not to talk at the table, but as my own girls grew up, our dining table was a place where the girls could discuss anything, nothing was taboo.

    No-one's opinion was dismissed, and some very lively meals took place.

    You should try it. You might enjoy it!

  5. Say "Excuse me', not "May I leave the table?"
  6. Don't leave the table until all the family have finished their meal.
  7. Help to clear when everyone is finished eating.
  8. Compliment the cook. Say thank you.

Get into trouble at the last office party?

Here's the rules for keeping out of trouble.

Informal dining setting - Colourful, casual crockery and cutlery


It's not just table manners that seem to have disappeared these days

People push in at the supermarket checkout, they don't give up their seat on the bus for an elder, they hardly ever say thank you to a shop assistant. The list goes on.

Shop assistants are rude, telephone operators are abrupt, the young have contempt for authority, no-one opens doors for others, people don't wait their turn, impatience reigns supreme...

— Jan T

My own don't list - and it could be longer!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Don't park hereDon't use that thing everywhereDon't park here eitherDon't forget someone will come after youDon't rubbish the planet
Don't park here
Don't park here
Don't use that thing everywhere
Don't use that thing everywhere
Don't park here either
Don't park here either
Don't forget someone will come after you
Don't forget someone will come after you
Don't rubbish the planet
Don't rubbish the planet

Don't do that either - it's rude

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Don't whisper in front of peopleDon't pass the point of a knife or a penDon't forget to wash your handsDon't forget to cover your mouthDon't point, it's rudeDon't annoy meDon't interruptDon't poke your tongue outDon't sound like a guttersnipeDon't put your elbows on the table
Don't whisper in front of people
Don't whisper in front of people
Don't pass the point of a knife or a pen
Don't pass the point of a knife or a pen
Don't forget to wash your hands
Don't forget to wash your hands
Don't forget to cover your mouth
Don't forget to cover your mouth
Don't point, it's rude
Don't point, it's rude
Don't annoy me
Don't annoy me
Don't interrupt
Don't interrupt
Don't poke your tongue out
Don't poke your tongue out
Don't sound like a guttersnipe
Don't sound like a guttersnipe
Don't put your elbows on the table
Don't put your elbows on the table

Don't: for the boys - Be nice!

and why is the roll never replaced, either?
and why is the roll never replaced, either?

Bathroom etiquette - funny, serious, risque

Rules for how to behave in the bathroom.

A bit of toilet humour?

Golf etiquette - for you

When you play golf, there are rules to follow about what is socially acceptable on the golf course. Here are some websites that help with this.


Wedding etiquette - It's got to be just right!

The rules for tying the knot right.

Rules for how not to do it.

Mother-in-law etiquette - at last!

Dealing with your mother-in-law can occasionally be a source of worry. Follow some of these tips on MIL etiquette.

Business etiquette

Doing business, especially with overseas companies, can have unforeseen problems, unless you get some etiquette advice.

Multicultural Manners: Essential Rules of Etiquette for the 21st Century
Multicultural Manners: Essential Rules of Etiquette for the 21st Century

Things in the world have changed because of assimilation and so we all need to understand the differences and learn to make allowances.

After all, that's good manners.


Office party etiquette - what to do, what not to do

Copyright information

Photographic images on this lens

Purchased from

Except where otherwise noted

© 2009 Jan T Urquhart Baillie

Etiquette, shm-etiquette - does it matter that much?

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Yes, being polite, having manners, and using proper etiquette does make a difference in how people view you. These qualities are so rare now a days, that it is quite note worthy to have the door held politely open for you, or to have someone stop to apologize for bumping into you in a public place. I do miss many of these things.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks so much. I liked your Squidoo.

    • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

      9 years ago from Australia

      [in reply to mbrownauthor] Hi again, Margaret! We are just re-watching the episodes on payTV, and it's just as relevant as it was years ago.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I sure enjoyed this lens! I love "Keeping Up Appearances." Very funny. At least you were brought up to have manners. I see less and less manners from children (and adults) all the time.

    • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

      9 years ago from Australia

      [in reply to ChineseKitesforKids] As long as you don't take it as seriously as Hyacinth, or Beryl (mother)! Have fun.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is great! You know I've never set a table properly in my life. Great lens. Thanks for sharing. I think this is going to be extremely useful to a lot of people.

    • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

      9 years ago from Australia

      [in reply to spirituality] I think I caught them all, but...

    • religions7 profile image


      9 years ago

      Great start - there are still some spelling mistakes left though (and feel free to delete this comment).

    • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

      9 years ago from Australia

      [in reply to badmsm] Alleluia to that! Happy medium is something else My mother used to say. Thanks for the gifts.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My MIL is Hyacinth (she has even commented about my chipped mugs! I have 5 kids, so chips happen...)

      Manners are important, but so is patience and a sense of humor. Moderation in all things.

      5 stars & a Squid Angel Blessing!


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