“Teach Your Children Well” Is No Guarantee

by admin on May 14, 2012

My 12-year-old son convinced me once again that we should eat dinner at one of those “all you can eat buffet places.” Naturally, kids loves these places. It’s a carnival of pizzas, mac and cheese, ice cream, brownies, cookies, pies and more fried items than a Southern truck stop on a country road. Yes, there are vegetables and meat choices, but the competition is tough when the child is exposed to so many other less digestible but more exciting choices.

Of course, I acquiesced, as mothers do – all in the name of that precious little smile and joyful sound of, “Thanks, Mom,” that we long to hear before the ringing anthem of “Why not,” “That’s not fair,” and, “You never give me anything I want”!

So, here we are in the trough capital, herding through the stations for our selections and finally finding our way to our booth. Our table awaits with the little placard card which will alert the staff whether we are finished or not by the appropriate placement of said card during our absence for “seconds”! Taking our seat and beginning with the same set of standards we always use, whether casual or elegant dining – we place our napkin in our lap, grasping our utensils in the proper cutting position and proceed to “enjoy”, and I use the term cautiously, the spectrum of colors and textures that fill our plate.

As we engage in table conversation, I notice in the sea of chewing faces, a very — and I mean VERY — large man. In fact, my son and I are both convinced he is a Sumo wrestler.

He is with a group of about six or seven, which I presume are family, based on the similarities shared, when suddenly, he literally takes his fork and commences to stab a slab of prime rib – and I mean “stab” the entire large piece of meat in the center — raise what is surely ¾ of a pound or more of beef to his mouth, to which he begins to chew, rather knaw, off of the hanging course.

I literally thought I would just faint, but instead, I was suddenly distracted by my son when he saw the look on my face. Clearly he was afraid that my own reaction may be seen by the offender. As a professional etiquette consultant, and having been “reared in the south”, it should come as no surprise that my son has been taught proper table manners since he could pick up a 4” miniature fork from his high chair tray. I highly encourage all parents to begin at this early age, lest they have a “meat stabber” in their future. 0503-12

I rarely notice other eaters’ indelicate manner of eating when dining at a restaurant but 2 weeks ago I had the opportunity to get an eyeful when an older teenaged boy and his friends were unescapably in my line of vision.   Oldest teen male proceeded to pick his nose and wipe it absently and then pick up food with those same fingers all through his meal.   It was like being forced to watch a horror movie.   Over and over again his fingers probed his nose and over and over again he ate with those same fingers.

But I disagree that raising children to be mannerly will automatically guarantee that they will behave like gentlemen or ladies when they are older and out from under parental supervision.  All of my children were taught repeatedly to not put their elbows on the table while dining and but one of them, now aged 23,  the many lessons haven’t stuck.   I’m sure in the proper context this adult child of mine knows the right thing to do but often chooses not to in less formal situations.   Once kids reach adulthood, they are their own masters and they choose the path they wish to take.   Declaring, “I did not raise you to be a Barbarian!,” can be a humorous reminder but one has to be careful that it does not mutate into manipulation to avoid the embarrassment that one’s own kid can be quite uncouth sometimes.   I swear, I think some of my kids purposely do things like belch at the table just to see if they can get a rise from me or their father and of course they usually do get rewarded with an exaggerated roll of the eyes or dramatic sigh of resignation with whispered, “Barbarians”, under the breath.

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Larkky May 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I am pretty sure my mother was ready to disown me for doing this exact thing when we ate (forking the meat and eating it like a popsicle instead of cutting it up like a civilized human being.) Somehow I ended up with BETTER table manners than the ones she tried to train into me. People don’t learn all their manners at home as kids…and people can UNlearn the ones they did learn at home.

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Gracie C. May 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm

@Calliope – thank you for your command of the English language. You comment gave me my chuckle for the afternoon.

I agree with the others about the tone of the submission. And, I disagree with the Admin that pointing out the behavior of others in a restaurant to teach your child lessons in manners is acceptable behavior. Correcting your child’s own behavior and modeling good manners is the way to teach. Saying, “See that big, fat, sumo wrestler over there with the hunk of meat? Don’t eat like him.” is not the way to go. And teaching your child to pass judgement on and opening discuss nearby strangers is a big fail as far as I’m concerned.

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admin May 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm

You are quite incorrect. Miss Manners, in this column regarding how parents should raise their children around less than mannerly adults, had this to say, “Young children are thrilled to know that it is not just they, but grown-ups, who sometimes misbehave. You must say nothing when the offender is present—you don’t want your children thinking that they can scold strangers—but afterward, you can say, ‘That poor lady doesn’t know how to talk properly— she said a very bad word.’”

I very clearly clarified that the OP should not be obvious in bringing attention to the rude Barbarian as this would be rude. However, using that adult as an example of how not to behave in order to teach manners to a child gets the Miss Manners thumbs up.

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Chocobo May 18, 2012 at 8:01 am

Admin, from her story, this mother didn’t use this as a teaching opportunity about bad manners. Instead she openly discusses the man’s (irrelevant) appearance with her son and then gapes at him so badly that even a twelve-year-old boy knows enough to be embarrassed. Miss Manner’s advice is what she should have done if any action was necessary at all, but from what we are told in this story, she definitely did not.

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Misunderstood May 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm

For the record…most of you completely misunderstood my writing style and your caustic remarks have been hurtful. I DID NOT point anything out to anyone or look at anyone for any length of time. I simply noticed the faux pas and gave a look to my son more to depict the incorrect form of eating said meal(AND DID NOT MAKE COMMENTS AT ALL). After all, if you were an English teacher, would you not point out to your children grammar mistakes they hear? I’m also sorry if many were offended by my reference to “size”…I was trying to paint a picture for visual effect, not insult someone based on weight. As for being from the South, true, doesn’t mean a thing….people can be well-mannered or rude from any part of the world.

I would ask that you keep in mind that the blog site is called “Etiquette Hell”. I have to wonder how you aren’t just as insulted by their tagline if my story has been so biting.

I do appreciate though how I was perceived by most of you in my writing because it has taught me to be much more careful and to avoid writing in such a style that would be construed as insulting rather than educational.

ps: Yes, I know how to spell “gnaw”…just a slip of the finger or brain cells…not really sure which.

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