How To Be Polite, Well-Mannered, and Ladylike or Gentlemanly


As soon as dinner is announced, the host or hostess will give the signal for leaving the drawing-room, and in all probability you will be requested to escort one of the ladies to the table. If this should occur, offer the lady your left arm, and at the table remain standing until every lady is seated, then take the place assigned to you by the hostess. When you leave the parlor, pass out first, and the lady will follow you, still lightly holding your arm. At the door of the dining-room, the lady will drop your arm. You should then pass in, and wait at one side of the entrance till she passes you. Having arrived at the table, each gentleman respectfully salutes the lady whom he conducts, who in her turn, also bows and takes her seat.

Nothing indicates the good breeding of a gentleman so much as his manners at table. There are a thousand little points to be observed, which, although not absolutely necessary, distinctly stamp the refined and well-bred man. A man may pass muster bydressing well, and may sustain himself tolerably in conversation; but if he be not perfectly “au fait,” dinner will betray him.

Any unpleasant peculiarity, abruptness, or coarseness of manners, is especially offensive at table. People are more easily disgusted at that time than at any other. All such acts as leaning over on one side in your chair, placing your elbows on the table, or on the back of your neighbor’s chair, gaping, twisting about restlessly in your seat, are to be avoided as heresies of the most infidel stamp at table.

Though the body at table should always be kept in a tolerably upright and easy position, yet one need not sit bolt-upright, as stiff and prim as a poker. To be easy, to be natural, and to appear comfortable, is the deportment required.

Always go to a dinner as neatly dressed as possible. The expensiveness of your apparel is not of much importance, but its freshness and cleanliness are indispensable. The hands and finger-nails require especial attention. It is a great insult to every lady at the table for a man to sit down to dinner with his hands in a bad condition.

It is considered vulgar to take fish or soup twice. The reason for not being helped twice to fish or soup at a large dinner-party is, because by doing so you keep three parts of the company staring at you whilst waiting for the second course, which is spoiling, much to the annoyance of the mistress of the house. The selfish greediness, therefore, of so doing constitutes its vulgarity. At a family dinner it is of less importance, and is consequently often done.

You will sip your soup as quietly as possible from the side of the spoon, and you, of course, will not commit the vulgarity of blowing in it, or trying to cool it, after it is in your mouth, by drawing in an unusual quantity of air, for by so doing you would be sure to annoy, if you did not turn the stomach of the lady or gentleman next to you.

Be careful and do not touch either your knife or your fork until after you have finished eating your soup. Leave your spoon in your soup plate, that the servant may remove them.

Never use your knife to convey your food to your mouth, under any circumstances; it is unnecessary, and glaringly vulgar. Feed yourself with a fork or spoon, nothing else—a knife is only to be used for cutting.

If at dinner you are requested to help any one to sauce, do not pour it over the meat or vegetables, but on one side. If you should have to carve and help a joint, do not load a person’s plate—it is vulgar; also in serving soup, one ladleful to each plate is sufficient.

Fish should always be helped with a silver fish-slice, and your own portion of it divided by the fork aided by a piece of bread. The application of a knife to fish is likely to destroy the delicacy of its flavor; besides which, fish sauces are often acidulated; acids corrode steel, and draw from it a disagreeable taste.

The lady and gentleman of the house are, of course, helped last, and they are very particular to notice, every minute, whether the waiters are attentive to every guest. But they do not press people either to eat more than they appear to want, nor insist upon their partaking of any particular dish. It is allowable for you to recommend, so far as to say that it is considered “excellent,” but remember that tastes differ, and dishes which suit you, may be unpleasant to others; and that, in consequence of your urgency, some modest people might feel themselves compelled to partake of what is disagreeable to them.

Neither ladies nor gentlemen ever wear gloves at table, unless their hands, from some cause, are not fit to be seen.

Avoid too slow or too rapid eating; the one will appear as though you did not like your dinner, and the other as though you were afraid you would not get enough.

Making a noise in chewing your food, or breathing hard in eating, are unseemly habits, which will be sure to get you a bad name at table, among people of good-breeding. Let it be a sacred rule that you cannot use your knife, or fork, or teeth too quietly.

Avoid picking your teeth, if possible, at table, for however agreeable such a practice might be to yourself, it may be offensive to others. The habit which some have of holding one hand over the mouth, does not avoid the vulgarity of teeth-picking at table.

Unless you are requested to do so, never select any particular part of a dish; but if your host asks you what part you prefer, name some part, as in this case the incivility would consist in making your host choose as well as carve for you.

If your host or hostess passes you a plate, keep it, especially if you have chosen the food upon it, for others have also a choice, and by passing it, you may give your neighbor dishes distasteful to him, and take yourself those which he would much prefer.

If a dish is distasteful to you, decline it, but make no remarks about it. It is sickening and disgusting to explain at a table how one article makes you sick, or why some other dish has become distasteful to you. I have seen a well-dressed tempting dish go from a table untouched, because one of the company told a most disgusting anecdote about finding vermin served in a similar dish.

If the meat or fish upon your plate is too rare or too well-done, do not eat it; give for an excuse that you prefer some other dish before you; but never tell your host that his cook has made the dish uneatable.

If a gentleman is seated by the side of a lady or elderly person, politeness requires him to save them all trouble of pouring out for themselves to drink, and of obtaining whatever they are in want of at the table. He should be eager to offer them whatever he thinks to be most to their taste.

Never pare an apple or a pear for a lady unless she desire you, and then be careful to use your fork to hold it; you may sometimes offer to divide a very large pear with or for a person.

It is not good taste to praise extravagantly every dish that is set before you; but if there are some things that are really very nice, it is well to speak in their praise. But, above all things, avoid seeming indifferent to the dinner that is provided for you, as that might be construed into a dissatisfaction with it.

Some persons, in helping their guests, or recommending dishes to their taste, preface every such action with a eulogy on its merits, and draw every bottle of wine with an account of its virtues; others, running into the contrary extreme, regret or fear that each dish is not exactly as it should be; that the cook, etc., etc. Both of these habits are grievous errors. You should leave it to your guests alone to approve, or suffer one of your intimate friends who is present, to vaunt your wine.

If you ask the waiter for anything, you will be careful to speak to him gently in the tone of request, and not of command. To speak to a waiter in a driving manner will create, among well-bred people, the suspicion that you were sometime a servant yourself, and are putting on airs at the thought of your promotion. Lord Chesterfield says: “If I tell a footman to bring me a glass of wine, in a rough, insulting manner, I should expect that, in obeying me, he would contrive to spill some of it upon me, and I am sure I should deserve it.”

Should your servants break anything while you are at table, never turn round, or inquire into the particulars, however annoyed you may feel. If your servants betray stupidity or awkwardness in waiting on your guests, avoid reprimanding them publicly, as it only draws attention to their errors, and adds to their embarrassment.

Never commit the vulgarism of speaking when you have any food in your mouth.

When you have occasion to change or pass your plate during dinner, be careful and remove your knife and fork, that the platealone may be taken, but after you have finished your dinner, cross the knife and fork on the plate, that the servant may take all away, before bringing you clean ones for dessert.

Do not put butter on your bread at dinner, and avoid biting or cutting your bread from the slice, or roll; rather break off small pieces, and put these in your mouth with your fingers.

It is considered vulgar to dip a piece of bread into the preserves or gravy upon your plate and then bite it. If you desire to eat them together, it is much better to break the bread in small pieces, and convey these to your mouth with your fork.

Avoid putting bones, or the seeds of fruit, upon your table-cloth. Rather place them upon the edge of your plate.

When you wish to help yourself to butter, salt, or sugar, use the butter-knife, salt-spoon and sugar-tongs; to use your own knife, spoon or fingers evinces great ignorance and ill-breeding.

It is customary in some American families to serve their guests with coffee in the parlor after dinner. But this is a European custom which is not generally practiced in polite American society. When coffee is given at the close of the dinner, it is more usual to serve it before the guests leave the table. The practice of handing it round in the parlor or drawing-room, is an unnecessary inconvenience to the guests particularly, without any compensating advantages.

Finger-glasses are generally handed round as soon as the viands are removed, but they are intended merely to wet the fingers and around the mouth. When the finger-glasses are passed, wet your fingers in them and then wipe them upon your napkin. The habit of rinsing the mouth at table is a disgusting piece of indelicacy, which is never practiced by any well-bred person.

Upon leaving the table, lay your napkin beside your plate, but do not fold it.

Do not leave the table until the lady of the house gives the signal, and when you leave offer your arm to the lady whom you escorted to the table.

It is generally the custom in this country for ladies to retain their seats at table till the end of the feast, but if they withdraw, the gentlemen all rise when they leave the table, and remain standing until they have left the room.

Politeness demands that you remain at least an hour in the parlor, after dinner; and, if you can dispose of an entire evening, it would be well to devote it to the person who has entertained you. It is excessively rude to leave the house as soon as dinner is over.