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

WINE AT TABLE.

Almost every gentleman has wine at his table whenever he has invited guests. Indeed, wine is considered an indispensable part of a good dinner, to which ladies and gentlemen have been formally invited. Even if you are a total-abstinence man yourself, you will not, if you are really a gentleman, attempt to compel all your guests to be so against their wish. If you are so fanatical that you have what is called “conscientious scruples” against furnishing wine, then you should invite none to dine who are not as fanatical and bigoted as yourself. You must consider that a gentleman may have “conscientious scruples” against dining with you on cold water, for there are even temperate and sober gentleman who would go without meat as soon as be deprived of their glass of wine at dinner. The vegetarian, who would force his guests to dine on cabbages and onions, is hardly guilty of a greater breach of etiquette than the total-abstinence fanatic who would compel his guests to go without wine.

If there is a gentleman at the table who is known to be a total-abstinence man, you will not urge him to drink. He will suffer his glass to be filled at the first passage of the wine, and raising it to his lips, will bow his respects with the rest of the guests, and after that his glass will be allowed to remain untouched. As little notice as possible should be taken of his total-abstinence peculiarity. And, if he is a gentleman, he will carefully avoid drawing attention to it himself.

It is not now the custom to ask a lady across the table to take wine with you. It is expected that every lady will be properly helped to wine by the gentleman who takes her to the table, or who sits next to her. But if you are in company where the old custom prevails, it would be better breeding to follow the custom of the place, rather than by an omission of what your entertainer considers civility, to prove him, in face of his guests, to be either ignorant or vulgar. If either a lady or gentleman is invited to take wine at table, they must never refuse; if they do not drink, they need only touch the wine to their lips. Do not offer to help a lady to wine until you see she has finished her soup or fish.

Always wipe your mouth before drinking, as nothing is more ill-bred than to grease your glass with your lips.

Do not propose to take wine with your host; it is his privilege to invite you.

It is considered well bred to take the same wine as that selected by the person with whom you drink. When, however, the wine chosen by him is unpalatable to you, it is allowable to take that which you prefer, at the same time apologizingly saying, “Will you permit me to drink claret?” or whatever wine you have selected.

In inviting a lady to take wine with you at table, you should politely say, “Shall I have the pleasure of a glass of wine with you?” You will then either hand her the bottle you have selected, or send it by the waiter, and afterwards fill your own glass, when you will politely and silently bow to each other, as you raise the wine to your lips. The same ceremony is to be observed when inviting a gentleman.

On raising the first glass of wine to his lips, it is customary for a gentleman to bow to the lady of the house.

It is not customary to propose toasts or to drink deep at a gentleman’s family table. Lord Byron describes “a largish party,” as “first silent, then talky, then argumentative, then disputatious, then unintelligible, then altogethery, then drunk.” But this was “a largish party,” which, it is to be hoped, was given at a tavern; for the man who drinks to intoxication, or to any considerable degree of elevation, at a gentleman’s family table, ought never to expect to be invited a second time.

At dinner-parties which are given to gentlemen, for the purpose of conviviality, one may indulge in as much wine as he pleases, provided he does not get drunk, and make a nuisance of himself. Where drinking, and toasting, and bumpers, are the order of the feast, as at a public dinner, given in honor of a distinguished man, or at the inauguration of some public enterprise, far greater latitude is allowed, in all things, than on more private and select occasions.

In conclusion of our article on table etiquette, we quote from a recent English work, some humorous, but valuable hints:

“We now come to habits at table, which are very important. However agreeable a man may be in society, if he offends or disgusts by his table traits, he will soon be scouted from it, and justly so. There are some broad rules for behavior at table. Whenever there is a servant to help you, never help yourself. Never put a knife into your mouth, not even with cheese, which should be eaten with a fork. Never use a spoon for anything but liquids. Never touch anything edible with your fingers.

“Forks were undoubtedly a later invention than fingers, but as we are not cannibals, I am inclined to think they were a good one. There are some few things which you may take up with your fingers. Thus an epicure will eat even macaroni with his fingers; and as sucking asparagus is more pleasant than chewing it, you may, as an epicure, take it up au naturel. But both these things are generally eaten with a fork. Bread is, of course, eaten with the fingers, and it would be absurd to carve it with your knife and fork. It must, on the contrary, always be broken when not buttered, and you should never put a slice of dry bread to your mouth to bite a piece off. Most fresh fruit, too, is eaten with the natural prongs, but when you have peeled an orange or apple, you should cut it with the aid of the fork, unless you can succeed in breaking it. Apropos of which, I may hint that no epicure ever yet put a knife to an apple, and that an orange should be peeled with a spoon. But the art of peeling an orange so as to hold its own juice, and its own sugar too, is one that can scarcely be taught in a book.

“However, let us go to dinner, and I will soon tell you whether you are a well-bred man or not; and here let me premise that what is good manners for a small dinner is good manners for a large one, and vice versa. Now, the first thing you do is to sit down. Stop, sir! pray do not cram yourself into the table in that way; no, nor sit a yard from it, like that. How graceless, inconvenient, and in the way of conversation! Why, dear me! you are positively putting your elbows on the table, and now you have got your hands fumbling about with the spoons and forks, and now you are nearly knocking my new hock glasses over. Can’t you take your hands down, sir? Didn’t you, learn that in the nursery? Didn’t your mamma say to you, “Never put your hands above the table except to carve or eat?” Oh! but come, no nonsense, sit up, if you please. I can’t have your fine head of hair forming a side dish on my table; you must not bury your face in the plate; you came to show it, and it ought to be alive. Well, but there is no occasion to throw your head back like that, you look like an alderman, sir, after dinner. Pray, don’t lounge in that sleepy way. You are here to eat, drink, and be merry. You can sleep when you get home.

“Well, then, I suppose you can see your napkin. Got none, indeed! Very likely, in my house. You may be sure that I never sit down to a meal without napkins. I don’t want to make my tablecloths unfit for use, and I don’t want to make my trousers unwearable. Well, now, we are all seated, you can unfold it on your knees; no, no; don’t tuck it into your waistcoat like an alderman; and what! what on earth do you mean by wiping your forehead with it? Do you take it for a towel? Well, never mind, I am consoled that you did not go farther, and use it as a pocket-handkerchief. So talk away to the lady on your right, and wait till soup is handed to you. By the way, that waiting is the most important part of table manners, and, as much as possible, you should avoid asking for anything or helping yourself from the table. Your soup you eat with a spoon—I don’t know what else you couldeat it with—but then it must be one of good size. Yes, that will do, but I beg you will not make that odious noise in drinking your soup. It is louder than a dog lapping water, and a cat would be quite genteel to it. Then you need not scrape up the plate in that way, nor even tilt it to get the last drop. I shall be happy to send you some more; but I must just remark, that it is not the custom to take two helpings of soup, and it is liable to keep other people waiting, which, once for all, is a selfish and intolerable habit. But don’t you hear the servant offering you sherry? I wish you would attend, for my servants have quite enough to do, and can’t wait all the evening while you finish that very mild story to Miss Goggles. Come, leave that decanter alone. I had the wine put on the table to fill up; the servants will hand it directly, or, as we are a small party, I will tell you to help yourself; but pray, do not be so officious. (There, I have sent him some turbot to keep him quiet. I declare he cannot make up his mind.) You are keeping my servant again, sir. Will you, or will you not, do turbot? Don’t examine it in that way; it is quite fresh, I assure you; take or decline it. Ah, you take it, but that is no reason why you should take up a knife too. Fish, I repeat, must never be touched with a knife. Take a fork in the right and a small piece of bread in the left hand. Good, but——? Oh! that is atrocious; of course you must not swallow the bones, but you should rather do so than spit them out in that way. Put up your napkin like this, and land the said bone on your plate. Don’t rub your head in the sauce, my good man, nor go progging about after the shrimps or oysters therein. Oh! how horrid! I declare your mouth was wide open and full of fish. Small pieces, I beseech you; and once for all, whatever you eat, keep your mouth shut, and never attempt to talk with it full.

“So now you have got a pâté. Surely you are not taking two on your plate! There is plenty of dinner to come, and one is quite enough. Oh! dear me, you are incorrigible. What! a knife to cut that light brittle pastry? No, nor fingers, never. Nor a spoon—almost as bad. Take your fork, sir, your fork; and, now you have eaten, oblige me by wiping your mouth and moustache with your napkin, for there is a bit of the pastry hanging to the latter, and looking very disagreeable. Well, you can refuse a dish if you like. There is no positive necessity for you to take venison if you don’t want it. But, at any rate, do not be in that terrific hurry. You are not going off by the next train. Wait for the sauce and wait for the vegetables; but whether you eat them or not, do not begin before everybody else. Surely you must take my table for that of a railway refreshment-room, for you have finished before the person I helped first. Fast eating is bad for the digestion, my good sir, and not very good manners either. What! are you trying to eat meat with a fork alone? Oh! it is sweetbread; I beg your pardon, you are quite right. Let me give you a rule: Everything that can be cut without a knife, should be cut with a fork alone. Eat your vegetables, therefore, with a fork. No, there is no necessity to take a spoon for peas; a fork in the right hand will do. What! did I really see you put your knife into your mouth? Then I must give you up. Once for all, and ever, the knife is to cut, not to help with. Pray, do not munch in that noisy manner; chew your food well, but softly. Eat slowly. Have you not heard that Napoleon lost the battle of Leipsic by eating too fast? It is a fact though. His haste caused indigestion, which made him incapable of attending to the details of the battle. You see you are the last person eating at table. Sir, I will not allow you to speak to my servants in that way. If they are so remiss as to oblige you to ask for anything, do it gently, and in a low tone, and thank a servant just as much as you would his master. Ten to one he is as good a man; and because he is your inferior in position, is the very reason you should treat him courteously. Oh! it is of no use to ask me to take wine; far from pacifying me, it will only make me more angry, for I tell you the custom is quite gone out, except in a few country villages, and at a mess-table. Nor need you ask the lady to do so. However, there is this consolation, if you should ask any one to take wine with you, he or she cannot refuse, so you have your own way. Perhaps next you will be asking me to hob and nob, ortrinquer in the French fashion with arms encircled. Ah! you don’t know, perhaps, that when a lady trinques in that way with you, you have a right to finish off with a kiss. Very likely, indeed! But it is the custom in familiar circles in France, but then we are not Frenchmen. Will you attend to your lady, sir? You did not come merely to eat, but to make yourself agreeable. Don’t sit as glum as the Memnon at Thebes; talk and be pleasant. Now you have some pudding. No knife—no, no. A spoon, if you like, but better still, a fork. Yes, ice requires a spoon; there is a small one handed you, take that.

“Say ‘no.’ This is the fourth time wine has been handed to you, and I am sure you have had enough. Decline this time if you please. Decline that dish too. Are you going to eat of everything that is handed? I pity you if you do. No, you must not ask for more cheese, and you must eat it with your fork. Break the rusk with your fingers. Good. You are drinking a glass of old port. Do not quaff it down at a gulp in that way. Never drink a whole glassful of anything at once.

“Well, here is the wine and dessert. Take whichever wine you like, but remember you must keep to that, and not change about. Before you go up stairs I will allow you a glass of sherry after your claret, but otherwise drink of one wine only! You don’t mean to say you are helping yourself to wine before the ladies! At least, offer it to the one next to you, and then pass it on, gently, not with a push like that. Do not drink so fast; you will hurry me in passing the decanters, if I see that your glass is empty. You need not eat dessert till the ladies are gone, but offer them whatever is nearest to you. And now they are gone, draw your chair near mine, and I will try and talk more pleasantly to you. You will come out admirably at your next dinner with all my teaching. What! you are excited, you are talking loud to the colonel. Nonsense! Come and talk easily to me or to your nearest neighbor. There, don’t drink any more wine, for I see you are getting romantic. You oblige me to make a move. You have had enough of those walnuts; you are keeping me, my dear sir. So now to coffee [one cup] and tea, which I beg you will not pour into your saucer to cool. Well, the dinner has done you good, and me too. Let us be amiable to the ladies, but not too much so.”