Here’s a list of rules regarding table manners my dad created while I was a kid.  Not like, as a formal list.  He just snapped them at us verbally and we were supposed to remember them.

Also, it’s important to note I was expected to do these things perfectly by the time I turned eleven.  Shawn had to do the entire list by the time he turned 10.  Gwen was mostly left alone about rules.  Susan had to follow them around the same age as Shawn, but Mom kept Susan seated out of Dad’s line of sight so she wasn’t corrected as often.  Dad was hardest, by far, on Shawn.  (Literally, there was a night I decided to test how badly I could break every rule.  Dad was so busy shouting at Shawn about fork usage he didn’t notice I was using my hands to eat, chewing with my mouth open, and making pig noises.)

Every time we went out to eat, at least one of these rules would get broken, and Dad would spend the whole meal telling us how embarrassing we were and how he was never taking us out to eat again. Then a few strangers would stop by and tell my parents they had never seen such well behaved children before, and he’d calm down a bit.  This seriously happened every goddamn time we ate out.

Violating the following may result in anywhere from a $ 0.25 to $ 50 fine, and possibly sentencing to eat in the mudroom:

  • No elbows on the table.


  • When you are finished eating, fold your hands and rest them on the table.


  • When eating at the table, sit up straight, push your chair in as far as possible (this prevents you from spilling on yourself,) and keep your plate a reasonable distance from the edge of the table. Any spillage is proof this rule was violated.


  • When ladies sit at the dinner table, they should cross their ankles.  Regardless of what they’re wearing.


  • After sitting down, the absolute first thing you should do is put your napkin in your lap. Don’t tuck it into your shirt like Grandpa. He eats like a farmer. (This does not reflect my feelings on farmer’s eating habits. It was literally said to me.)


  • If you already have food in your mouth, do not put more food in until the first bite is swallowed.


  • No talking with your mouth full, regardless of how angry people get when you don’t answer questions because your mouth is full.


  • If you have food in your mouth and have been asked a question, don’t rush to finish chewing and swallow. You might choke. And that’s way worse that inevitably getting grouched at for not answering Dad immediately (which will happen.)


  • When eating bread, tear off a small, bite-sized portion, and place it into your mouth. Bite-sized should be roughly one square inch of bread.


  • If you would like butter, cut a serving-sized patty of butter off of the main stick of butter. Place it on your plate or the bread plate. Then butter a bite-sized portion of bread.



  • Similarly to bread, all food should be cut into roughly one square inch sized pieces before being consumed.


  • We are American, so we cut food the American style. Hold your knife in your right hand, fork in the left. Cut a bite-sized piece (one square inch) with your utensils. Set the knife down. Move your fork from the left hand to the right hand. Place the food into your mouth. Chew it, then cut the next piece. If you are cutting meat, go against the grain.


  • Being in Europe is not a pass to switch to the European way of eating things.



  • When eating pre-cut frozen green beans, you may either pierce two one-inch segments, or scoop three. (It might have been the other way around, I can’t remember anymore.)


  • Cut burgers and sandwiches in half before you eat them.


  • Remember when eating soup, “As a ship goes out to sea, I dip my spoon away from me.”


  • Do not use a spoon to twirl pasta before eating it. You should be able to twirl it, and get it into your mouth politely, without the spoon.


  • Never, EVER, lick your knife. You don’t want to eat like Grandpa. He eats like a farmer. (This does not reflect my feelings on farmer’s eating habits. It was literally said to me.)


  • You should always have something to drink with dinner. If you don’t, and you start choking, it’s your fault you’re choking and you’re stupid.


  • No singing at the table. Even during lunch, at home with just the family.


  • Use low indoor voices only when at the table.


  • Place utensils down gently on your plate when you aren’t using them.


  • Peas may be eaten with either a fork or a spoon, but if you use a fork, you must scoop your peas. Don’t pierce them.


  • If you are unable to get a last bit of food on your fork, you may use a knife to push it onto the fork. never use your fingers.


  • If you are offered one of those little dipping bowls, dip one hand at a time, then dry on the provided cloth.


  • If you start coughing and can’t stop, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom immediately so other diners won’t be disturbed.


  • Never touch other diners during a meal, including accidentally bumping feet. (Gwen was completely exempt from this rule. I got kicked a lot, then accused of taking up too much space.  I now habitually sit with my feet tucked as far under my chair as I can because that’s how I avoided being punished.)


  • Do not use a knife to cut desserts. Use the side of your fork. As always, pieces should be bite sized.


  • Eat at a moderate pace. This was never actually defined, but I believe “moderate” was considered whatever pace Dad was consuming his food.


  • If pizza is too hot to eat, or floppy, it should be cut.


Last night at dinner I watched my father eat a hunk of steak three inches long.  He didn’t move his fork to his other hand before eating it.