Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Fine Art Of The Dinner Party

" We are glad to say that the English habit of gentleman remaining at the table, after the ladies have retired, to ind ulge in wine, coarse conversation and obscene jokes, has nev er been received into popular favor in this country. The very words “after-dinner jokes” suggest something ind ecent. We take our manners from Paris instead of London , and ladies and gentlemen retire together from the dining-table instead of the one sex remaining to pander to their baser appetites, and the other departing with all their del icate sentiments in a state of outrage if their pause to think of the cause of their dismissal." R. A. Wells

Did you hear the one about the ....oh, never mind.

According to Dr. Well's rules of etiquette, dinner has been pronounced to be, in civilized life, the most important hour of the twenty-four. The etiquette of the dinner table has a prominence commensurate with the dignity of the ceremony. Like the historian of Peter Bell, we commence at the commencement and thence proceed to the moment when you take leave officially or vanish unseen.

I'm not sure exactly what was just said here. I am, however, quite concerned - frightened actually - about the "vanishing unseen" part.

Dr. Wells highly suggests that the first requisite to attending a dinner party is being invited. Seriously.
He recommends, that once invited, you reply immediately in the most direct and unequivocal terms. No sashaying around the parlor waiting for a better offer.
He also warns against arriving too early.

You dastardly nincompoops you have arrived ten minutes early! Now see what you have done.

And you must guard against being late:

You wizened old numbnuts! You have arrived ten minutes late! Now see what you have done!

Other rules ( I pick and choose as I please) include:

Don't wear wide hair. It will only get mashed on one side or the other before you have even finished the 3rd course. This rule is my own. I thought it made sense.
  • Arrive neatly dressed and freshly bathed
  • Remain at least one hour, in the parlour, after dinner (even if you are the only one in the parlour, I suppose
  • be congenial
  • Provisions should be made for a servant to announce guests as they arrive
  • When the domestic announces dinner, rise immediately and wait for the master of the house requests you to pass into the dining room. He will give his arm to the lady of most distinction.
  • The lady of the house will guide the guests into the dining room.
  • Male guests should offer their arms to the ladies of less or no distinction whatsoever and will wait for the ladies to be seated before respectfully bowing and then seating themselves.
  • The two most distinguished male guests will be seated on either side of the mistress as apposed to their own mistresses)
  • The two ladies of most distinction will be seated on either side of the master. ( Your best bet is to push your way to the head of the table and seat yourself - preferably to the right as it is the place of honor - of the master of the house
  • Husbands and wives should be separated and placed as far from each other as possible. They ought not converse amongst themselves at the party
  • Do not be rude to the waitstaff
  • Do not praise every dish nor be seemingly indifferent. I'd say just smack your lips a few times, nod knowingly at the hostess and roll your eyes in appreciation.
  • Avoid picking your teeth at the table even if you would place a hand, napkin or your hat over your mouth.
  • The host and hostess should be served last. This way they can keep an eye on the waitstaff.
  • A gentleman should never pare an apple or pear for a lady unless she desires you to do so then be careful to use your fork to hold it.
  • Do not dip your bread in gravy or clean your plate with it.
  • Dr. West would approve of making a volcano out of your potatoes and pouring graving into it. Go ahead and do that.
  • Soup is served first. Take some. If you don't like it, pretend to eat it until the dishes are removed. (I did not make this one up)
  • Fish follows soup. Fish may be declined, but do not call for a second serving. It doesn't say anything about Rice-a-Roni, so go ahead and ask for seconds if you like. Tater Tots too.
  • Never eat asparagus with your fingers and don't say "fingers were made before forks" as an excuse.
  • When you are served, begin to eat without waiting for the others (this I can understand, because the Mister makes an art of putting cream cheese on his bagel and if I were to wait for him to plaster it on just so I would probably starve to death. So dig in. When you are finished eating ask lots of questions of those who were served last so they will have to talk with their mouths full.
  • Do not scrape your plate.
  • Never play with your fingers upon the table (?)
  • If a gentleman should (be forced to) sit next to an elderly woman, politeness requires him to save her all the trouble of pouring out drinks or procuring anything to eat. Just tell her it's too salty or cold or whatever after you are tired of bouncing around serving her.
  • After retiring to the drawing room the guests should intermingle in a social manner and the time until the hour of taking leave may be spent either in conversation or in various entertaining games.
  • It is expected that guests will remain 2 to three hours after dinner. I'm confused - earlier he said one hour. Taking my leave will depend entirely on how many games of Blind Man's Bluff I am required to play.


Following these rules should get you safely through any dinner party.
I appreciate your kind attention. I took note that you sat straighter in your chair for this lesson. You neglected, however, to bring light work to do.
If you forget again I shall provide you with some crewel work as I have a tapestry in need of completion for my dining hall.


Janeen said...

I'll put a pot of water on the stove for tea! Have fun!

willow said...

Aunt Fifi?! She looks really friendly.

MuseSwings said...

You may pour the tea, Janeen - the post is ready.

To you perhaps, Willow. She is, after all, your dear and ever so favorite aunt Fifi. She only puts up with me because I am your bloggiefriend.

Genevieve said...

thank you so much for all of your caring and prayerful comments. I appreciate your support more than you'll ever know!!!!

It always nice to know someone's listening.

Betsy said...

I'm ready for tea, too...pinky finger daintely extended as I pick up my cup, of course!

steviewren said...

I wholeheartedly concur with Dr West on the topic of guests who arrive too early. Don't they know the hostess waits until the last minute to dress in her finery and if they arrive too early she will not be neatly dressed and freshly bathed. My in-laws always ALWAYS arrived more than an hour early for every function I ever hosted. ARRRRRGH!

Debby said...

Meering early guests at the door naked was one way Aunt Fifi recommended dealing with this problem.

Dave King said...

I always sympathised with the ladies, having to miss all that course conversation...

Anonymous said...

We lived by one or two and still do to this day. Cleaned up and get dressed. Of course we only took a bath once a week, if then in cold weather, and our clothes were the least dirty ones flung somewhere.

Lavinia said...

Musey, all excellent points and vitally needed in today's wildnerness of social mores. However Dr. Wells fails to address how a lady should deal with footsies and wandering hands under the table. Is it permissible to use one's fish fork as a weapon?

soulbrush said...

and never fiddle with your fingers under the table either...have you been to england muse? i think you'd love it would really 'tickle your fancy'!

MuseSwings said...

You all are a hoot! Love your commentary! Lavinia - yes - fish forks -you know, I was going to talk about that and forgot - glad you addressed the masher problem.

Soul - have not been to England yet! I know I would just love it there.

Stevie - tape a $5 bill to the door with a note saying "go get yourself a cup of coffee and be back at 5:00 like I told you in the first place."

Nihal said...

I love your post Cynthia! Which made me long for our old Stamboul (today's Istanbul) dining traditions & long for togetherness...
A visual wealth of ageless and varied cultures, tantalizing cuisine and drinks, I also miss not traditional foods, but the way cooking in old-fashioned ways.
I know this all from history books and sayings by my parents. I think Japan is still the best follower of its old traditions, even today. I can feel the old feelings only when I am in Japan. This post made me forced to arrange a trip to Tokyo:)
Have a blessed Sunday & thanks for your so lovely notes that make my day, be sure:)

Sparky ♥ ∞ said...

I was going to come over to eat but I forgot the rules ... that's too many things to remember for my poor little fuzzy brain ... can I just have some tea and crackers instead? :o) ♥ ∞

nanatrish said...

Cynthia, you have the funniest posts! I love this. You have been given an award over my blog. I love reading your blog and you are a very special person. luv ya, Trish

Blicky Kitty said...

Oh I just have so many questions! Is Aunt Fifi any relation to Gollam?

Would this be considered rude?

MuseSwings said...

Nihal - thank you so much!
Sparky - I just make the rules - I mean write them. I don't follow them, especially with dining at home with the Mister - so come on over any time - I'll dispense with the finger bowls just for you.

Trish -- thank you! I love the award and will post it tomorrow!

MuseSwings said...

Blicko - you are soooo observant! From the looks of aunt Fifi, I believe she is his mother, cousin, sister and uncle. So. yes. you could say they are related.

Before I go to the film, would you mind if I go to the bathroom first?..............Thank you.

Anna Lefler said...

"Don't wear wide hair." BWAH-HA-HA! That one laid me out, lady.

I just love your stuff.



MuseSwings said...

Love your's too Anna - two seconds after you post I'm there - unless I'm not on my computer because then I'm not there but if I am, I am. Wide hair and all.