Dining Etiquette 101 (or “Why So Many Commenters Got It Wrong”)

by admin on July 9, 2013

Yesterday’s post generated a considerable number of comments all absolving “O” of any etiquette faux pas while a guest in the house of the OP.   A whole lot of you are therefore woefully wrong in your understanding of good table manners for guests.

Let us first establish that sitting down to eat a dinner meal is more than just satisfying the biological need to refuel the body but is also a social interaction involving conversations and connections.   Judith Martin sums it perfectly, “The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet.”   A considerable number of commenters believe that once O had satisfied his need for food that he was free of any obligation to socialize with his hosts as long as he excuses himself.

The host sets the tone and direction of the meal, being the conversational gatekeeper if necessary.  A savvy guest knows to follow the leads the host gives during the meal, i.e. as to when to begin eating, when to start eating the next course, when the meal has ended, and the host invites guests to retire to more comfortable surroundings.     I’ll break down the scenario to demonstrate how O usurped the host’s position.

O ate very little. He took a couple pieces of meat and a biscuit, but no salad. Because he took so little food, he was finished eating well ahead of the rest of us.

Unless O has a food allergy, he, as a guest, does have a reciprocal obligation to at least taste each of the dishes prepared by the host.   This is basic “Dining Etiquette 101″ to avoid offending the host who has labored to feed you.   One taste of the dishes and still leaving food on the plate is enough to assuage any potential offense a host might have.   On the flip side of this coin, the good host does not take notice of what his guests have failed to eat, does not comment on the leftovers nor urges guests to consume more.

When he was finished eating, he stood up, thanked me very much for having fed him,

This is called “eating and running”.   In other circumstances, many of you would be crying foul if some guest wolfed down the meal you spent time preparing and left.  While it is nice that O thanks his hosts, he has taken the initiative to determine when the communal meal has come to an end.   A guest signals to the host that he is finished with his meal by putting the dining utensils on the plate at the 4:20 clock position and a good host will take notice of that and offer to release the guest as appropriate.

OP, what you could have asked O, “Oh, do you need to leave so soon?”, thus implying that the only reason a guest would leave the table that abruptly would be a need to get home asap.   Had O replied in the negative, you could then say, “Then please stay and talk with us.”   You lost control as the hostess of your dinner at the hands of an 19-year-old and you can take it back which then requires you to ask him interesting questions that engage him in the conversation.

told my son to stay and finish his meal,

If I had been the OP, I would have been flabbergasted that a guest in my house would have the audacity to tell one of my children how to behave at the dinner table.   What most of you missed is that by merely saying this, O knew what he had done was a faux pas and he is directing his young host to continue finishing his meal despite the awkwardness that O just created.  O was educated enough to know his leaving the table prematurely put a social obligation on the OP’s son to attend to his guest.

cleared his plate to the counter,  then went to stand about 10 feet away from the table texting on his cell phone.

Turn the cell phone off and enjoy people and the moment.   What O conveyed to his hosts is that any conversations with them are infinitely less important than keeping in touch with presumable more interesting people he’s texting.   If O cannot live without his cell phone for 45 minutes, he has a serious technology dependency that is stunting his development.

The rest of us exchanged a confused look, but continued with our meal, although I did silently rush my son to finish so that he could go join his friend.

O placed his friend in an incredibly awkward position of feeling an obligation to rush his eating to join him and any hope of pleasant table talk just got squashed by O taking the lead to determine when the meal had ended.  First rule of being a guest is that you don’t unnecessarily put your kind hosts in confusing or awkward situations and O did just that.

Those EHellions who gave O an pass to get out Etiquette Hell are mislead in their understanding of what is polite behavior for dinner guests, especially one that is an adult at age 19.

{ 107 comments… read them below or add one }

Aliciaspinnet July 9, 2013 at 1:02 am

I used to be a very fussy eater and there are still things that I will not eat.I also have a small appetite so will usually take a small portion of any dish. I disagree that I am obliged to try things that I know I really do not like for the sake of politeness sake. If offered a dish I dont like, my usual reply is that it looks lovely but I am happy with what I have, thank you. I have had a few occasions where people have pushed me on this, several times to the point of really berating me. Even if my behaviour is rude, I think that is far far ruder. and really made me incredibly uncomfortable. And I would argue that it’s rude for a host to make assumptions why a guest is not eating something.

But agree that leaving the table and texting was rude. I’m not bothered by him clearing his plate, but he should have come back and continued the conversation.

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whatever July 9, 2013 at 1:15 am

I agree that his getting up early is rude and that he should have made his food stretch by eating it more slowly.
That said, I can’t get behind the idea that not tasting everything is rude. If there was something in the salad that he was allergic to or found very aversive, it seems more polite to simply avoid it than to declare why he wasn’t eating that food. After all, the host is not supposed to be checking what exactly a guest has been eating, and for the guest to bring up why s/he isn’t eating a food would seem to anticipate rudeness on the part of the host.
Also, if not tasting everything is rude- where does that end? I’ve been to Thanksgiving potlucks with 25 dishes on the table; there’s no way to even taste everything. Also, you give an out for allergies, but what about religious preferences? ethical concerns? strong aversions? fad diets? mild dislikes? Eating is one of the most intimate ways we interact with the world, and it seems wrong to me to effectively coerce another adult into putting a substance into his or her body just by placing it on the dinner table.

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EchoGirl July 9, 2013 at 1:57 am

“I disagree that I am obliged to try things that I know I really do not like for the sake of politeness sake.”
Totally with you there. I’m sensitive to a lot of foods, and for the most part I know what I will and won’t eat. I will not try something if I know I won’t eat it. What’s the point?

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Lythande July 9, 2013 at 3:01 am

The fact the the mere act of eating a meal is supposed to be something so wrought with ritual, subtext, and judgment pretty much encapsulates why I’m horribly uncomfortable around people everywhere. I can’t be alone in thinking that life would be a lot more pleasant if people said what they meant instead of living by unspoken rules and looking down on people who weren’t raised with them.

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Cherry July 9, 2013 at 4:55 am

“Unless O has a food allergy, he, as a guest, does have a reciprocal obligation to at least taste each of the dishes prepared by the host. ”

If it’s a case of it sincerely being a dish I have never tried before, I will give it a fair chance.

However, if it mainly contains something I know for a fact I don’t like, such as nuts or raw tomato, I already know I’m not going to enjoy it if I try it, and the fact its being served somewhere that I am the guest of is not going to miraculously change that fact.

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Mary-Anne July 9, 2013 at 5:18 am

We have a family joke about this, started inadvertently by my grandmother many years ago.
Someone at her table had done an “eat and run” and expressing her outrage when telling us about it, said he had bolted his food and left so quickly “his plate hadn’t even had a chance to get cold”.
To this day, whenever we feel a drawn-out dinner has gone on too long and we we want to leave the table, we touch our plates and look enquiringly at the host; in other words, the plates are cold, is dinner over and please may we leave the table?

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iridaceae July 9, 2013 at 6:14 am

There are things I don’t touch because I’m on a doctor-prescribed diet to keep my blood sugar down. That trumps “tasting to be polite” in my book. Allergies aren’t the only medical reason why certain foods might not be tasted/touched.

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KarenK July 9, 2013 at 6:52 am

“I disagree that I am obliged to try things that I know I really do not like for the sake of politeness sake.”

I’m on board with this as well. Although I like many more things now than I did when I was a child, there are things I still won’t eat (liver and olives being two of them). I’d probably try almost anything else, but if liver was the main course, I’d be vegetarian for the night.

As for O’s behavior, I’m not going to chastise him too severely. He’s a kid, and kids for the most part only know what they’ve been taught at home. The one thing I agree with is that the OP in this story missed an opportunity to teach him about other ways of doing things:

“OP, what you could have asked O, “Oh, do you need to leave so soon?”, thus implying that the only reason a guest would leave the table that abruptly would be a need to get home asap. Had O replied in the negative, you could then say, “Then please stay and talk with us.” You lost control as the hostess of your dinner at the hands of an 19-year-old and you can take it back which then requires you to ask him interesting questions that engage him in the conversation.”

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Miss-E July 9, 2013 at 7:12 am

I agree on all counts except for trying every dish. There are some things that I simply loathe and I feel like it is more insulting to take a small portion of steamed broccoli, choke down one bite and leave the rest on the plate than to just leave it alone.

Sidestory: I don’t know the policy on serving but I am not a fan of the host serving out dishes without asking the eater how much they’d like. I’m a life-long vegetarian and when I was a kid vegetarian was still a bizarre foreign concept to many of my friends parents who took this to mean that I ate only vegetables and so I would be served a gigantic plate of salad or something. The worst was when my boss once served me a HUGE (I’m talking full, dinner-sized plate) portion of red sauerkraut because she had not thought to prepare anything else and then loomed over me, criticizing until I ate it all.

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Miss-E July 9, 2013 at 7:15 am

Also on the subject of not eating things: I hate nuts of all kinds with such a deep, deep passion that I used to just tell people I was allergic so they would stop pestering me to eat things that contained them…ironically I developed an adult-onset allergy to macadamia nuts.

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MichelleP July 9, 2013 at 7:35 am

Agree with admin. I was raised to eat what was put in front of me, not necessarily all of it, but try it, stay at the table, wait until everyone was seated to start eating, and there were no cell phones then but they wouldn’t have been allowed.

I do disagree that anyone is obligated to eat what is put in front of them. Having grown up with both parents members of the “clean your plate” club, that’s the reason there is rampant obesity. (Including myself, though I don’t blame my parents for my actions as an adult.)

It is rude to text or use the phone at the table, and it’s rude to leave the table and do it too. My sister lets her fourteen year old daughter use her phone at family dinners, including when we’re out with our parents whom we rarely see. She does it herself constantly with us, too, even at restaurants!

I’m surprised at the posters defending O because he’s “a kid”. Nineteen is not a child.

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Wild Irish Rose July 9, 2013 at 8:19 am

I take back what I said about O just doing what he was accustomed to doing. Admin is correct that he should have stayed and been part of the rest of the meal until the family was finished.

However, I’m with everyone else about trying everything put before you. I can see requiring small children to try just a little bit of [fill in the blank], but only one’s OWN small children, and NEVER an adult. At 19 years of age, O knows exactly what he will and will not eat, and in my mind putting something on your plate that you know you’re not going to eat is just wasteful. So, Admin, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that it’s rude not to try everything on the table.

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admin July 10, 2013 at 8:13 am

Please read the OP’s follow up comments. She asked O ahead of time if there was anything on her intended menu he could not eat and he assured her he “eats everything”. Well, he didn’t and by having a sudden bout of pickiness, he dissed her attempts to be hospitable and serve him what he assured her would be acceptable food.

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Abby July 9, 2013 at 8:19 am

I’m with admin. Yes, of course, if there is any sort of medical reason to not eat something, you aren’t obligated to do so. But not trying something because it’s icky betrays a serious lack of empathy to your host who has worked to make sure you are comfortable and well fed. What is a small moment of discomfort in the face of the inconvenience they’ve taken on for you?

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Carrie July 9, 2013 at 8:27 am

I agree with the posters who say you’re not obligated to try every dish. I have Celiac disease, and it’s not always obvious what dishes are going to give me a reaction. Rather than monopolize the conversation about what I can and can’t eat, what each dish has in it, etc., I just pick the ones that are obviously safe, and the ones that are questionable I leave alone. As for scooping it on your plate for politeness sake, that’s out of the question. For some, a dinner roll just touching your salad can mean hours of discomfort.

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Huh July 9, 2013 at 8:29 am

No, I’m sorry, I really strongly disagree with “trying a sample of everything the host prepared for politeness sake.” As @whatever said above, does this extend into Thanksgiving or other kinds of large dinner parties, like I mentioned yesterday, where my friend the host had hamburgers/hotdogs/bbq chicken/pasta JUST as the main dishes and a whole lot of side dishes? I should have had one of each and made myself very sick?

You mentioned food allergies (which I do have) as being the allowed excuse not to, but what about diets? I have plenty of friends on all sorts of weird diets for weight loss or personal preferences (vegan) so the next time they come over I get to force my vegan friends to eat meat?

I come from a long line of people that have colitis/IBS/ulcers and there are some foods we cannot eat ever, some foods we can eat sometimes, etc. Salad happens to be one food that mother can very rarely but sometimes eat, depending on how her stomach is doing. So she should make herself sick trying it if someone made it? And a good friend of mine has problems with digesting dairy since she had a surgery. I have personally have witnessed her take a bite of something with a lot of cheese on it because it looked good and not even 10 minutes later be throwing up.

I guess then I would rather be “rude” then try something that will make me physically ill. And I don’t know why you would expect someone like a vegan or anyone on a particular diet for whatever reason to go off of it because of what you made for them to eat. As long as you are polite and not say, “OMG meat is murder/that’s disgusting/tomatoes make me puke even looking at them” and just say, “No, thank you,” then I still disagree with the “eat what’s put in front of you” rule. By the way, my overweight parents were raised by that rule in the 1950s, that they had to eat everything that was put on their plate. They both have always credited that rule as PART of the reason for their problems with food.

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Elizabeth July 9, 2013 at 8:59 am

While I agree with Admin’s points at a high level, let’s be reminded that this is a child and not a mature adult. This is an over-analysis of a child’s bad behavior. (19 yo males are children and the OP admits that this one is immature for his age) OP, as the adult and the hostess, could have attempted to draw O back to the table and back into conversation.

Yes, O could have handled it better but let’s not over-think this.

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admin July 10, 2013 at 8:09 am

19 is not a child. He is old enough to vote, to drink beer in some states, drive, go to war, own guns, get married, own a car, and numerous other advantages/responsibilities of being an adult.

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jd July 9, 2013 at 9:00 am

I don’t think anyone has said the boy had to eat food he knew he was allergic to. No one expects that. However, if it is just a matter of “I don’t like this” then one takes a bit, touches a bit of it with a fork and eats it, then moves on to other dishes, unless one can find some bits in it one knows will be okay to eat. I was once served a spinach soufflé as part of a meal — I detest the feeling of soufflé and soft meringues — and I oh-so-casually managed to pick most of the spinach out of it and eating that– I love spinach — while leaving most of the foamy stuff behind, without being obvious. And I was only 17 at the time, so this kid wasn’t too young to be able to handle it. If it is a case of allergies, he only had to state, with a friendly smile, “This looks delicious, but I am allergic to it, so no thank you,” when it was passed to him. Anyway, the OP had only put that in there to explain why he was done so soon — he didn’t eat much. As for leaving the table before the others — especially as a guest! — that is just out and out rude. As admin pointed out, he knew he put the other boy in an awkward position, or he wouldn’t have told him to finish his dinner. Then texting? What, the current conversation was too boring?

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Chocobo July 9, 2013 at 9:08 am

I think this is relevant from Miss Manners:

——
“There are polite rules for avoiding what you don’t want:
1. If you are serving yourself, from a tray or a buffet table, don’t take it. Take what you can eat and leave the rest.
2. If you are given something you don’t eat, mess up the plate a bit (sure, you know how — Miss Manners saw you hiding your vegetables under your potatoes when you were a mere toddler).
3. If your list of things you don’t eat covers everything served at a normal meal, then eat before you go out. Take a minimum amount for messing-up purposes. We don’t want to waste food, but we don’t want to waste the hosts’ energies, either, by making them rush around trying to find something to please you.
4. If you are worried about truly hidden ingredients — ubiquitous foodstuffs that are not easily dectected, but to which you have a serious reaction — you are allowed one whispered word to the hosts, or a reminder in advance to those with whom you done often. Other than that, follow rules one through three.
5. Don’t discuss food. (If Miss Manners weren’t so polite, she would say, “For heaven’s sake, shut up about it.”) Nobody is interested in hearing about what you don’t eat. Don’t announce it, and refuse to be led into any discussions about it. If prodded, just smile happily and decline what is offered, refusing to supply an explanation.

Miss Manners if fighting this battle for the sake of beleaguered hosts, so she reels she must make her own requests of them, in their interest.
1. Use service that allows people to choose what they want to eat. The most proper dinner service is the formal presentation of a tray or the informal family-style service, in which the host looks inquisitively at the guest he is aboue to serve, allowing for that person to say, “I prefer dark meat,” or “No meat for me, please.”
2. Serve generous amounts of the foods most people are likely to eat — salads, vegetables, and fruits.
3. Pretend not to notice what your guests are eating. If Miss Manners can get them to be quiet about it, that is the least you can do. It has always been the height of rudeness to monitor what your guests choose to put in their mouths.”

—–

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rachel July 9, 2013 at 9:08 am

Just saying I appreciate the admin analyzing the situation for us. valuable teaching moment. I’m sick of people’s minor allergies trumping etiquette. If it’s someone you care about then you can put up with a little gas.

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Nikki Lois July 9, 2013 at 9:14 am

I think this post raised some good points. I had been inclined to try to give O the benefit of the doubt about leaving the table, because he seemed like a nice person and not a boor, but you’re right; he should absolutely have stayed at the table until his host indicated otherwise. It was rude of him to take the initiative to leave the table and thus end the meal for everyone, as in it was no longer an enjoyable social event once he left. It was wrong of me to give him a semi-pass on that.

As for the “eat a bite of everything,” I disagree, as do many others, it seems. I cook and bake often and I know the disappointment when someone doesn’t try what I’ve made. But that is MY problem, not theirs. As a vegetarian who watches her weight, I know that I won’t always eat what is put in front of me. For example, if someone baked cheesecake (SUPER fattening) to share at work, and I’m counting calories, then eating a slice of cheesecake (even if it is vegetarian) means I can’t eat the dinner I was planning without going over my daily limit. Ultimately, I NEVER expect people to eat what I make and I do not look down on them, judge them, think they are rude, or anything like that if they choose not to eat it. I think I would be the rude one if I passed judgement on someone not eating something. Who am I to be upset about what someone does or doesn’t put in their body?

Also, if I know I won’t like something because I’ve learned that through trial and error, so why bother taking it? Why take some when I know I won’t eat it beyond the one bite I’m forcing myself? Then it’s ruined and has to be thrown away. If I had left it alone in its dish it could have been wrapped up and used as leftovers. This obviously only applies to buffet and family style meals.

One last thing, though, on the flip side: If I find the food only mildly displeasing I will eat it to be polite. But that’s my own decision. If I know that I hate something so much that eating it will send me retching to the bathroom, no, I’m not eating it. I won’t comment, I won’t make a face, I’ll just choose the other dishes to eat instead and compliment the host on those. Does that really make me rude?

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Hollis July 9, 2013 at 9:16 am

At age 19, he is not a kid. O should not have silently have urged her child to eat quickly to join his guest, but should have proceeded in their normal dinner habits and ignored the young man until they were finished. While he may have been rude according to their standards, he politely ate what he felt was appropriate to his needs, and while he should have stayed at the table to engage in conversation, he did politely remove his plate and then excused himself to go use his phone.
THe only thing I think he should have done is perhaps say that he would wait for son in another room while son finished his meal.

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Library Diva July 9, 2013 at 9:28 am

I found this post interesting and informative. I did not know that I was under obligation to sample everything. I’m a picky eater, but I will try to do better in the future.

One aspect that admin did not address that I see as a disturbing thread running through the comments is that people tend to give O a pass based on his age. Maybe that seems to contradict what I said yesterday about him not knowing better, but it still makes O in the wrong. O is old enough to vote, drive, purchase cigarettes and lottery tickets, join the military, get married, own property, sign a contract, hold a job without restrictions, refuse medical treatment, and a host of other privileges.

He’s old enough to follow basic etiquette, and if his parents haven’t taught him any, he’s old enough to be aware of the fact that most of society plays by a set of rules, and also of the fact that he should learn these rules in order to get ahead. What if O acted this way when he met his girlfriend’s parents for the first time, or behaved in this manner at a work function?

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LonelyHound July 9, 2013 at 9:29 am

I am going to climb on board with everyone else here and say that not tasting every thing is not offensive, however, the rest of O’s behavior was. Not tasting everything extends from personal preferences, medical problems, specific diets and know food troubles. I know of several people who do not participate in all of the dishes presented at dinners or pot lucks due to gluten allegories or specific food intolerances. However, these people stay and engage in conversation during the meals to which they are invited.

It does shock me that an adult of 19 (and he is an adult) cannot play a simple children’s game- Follow the Leader. You follow the cues of your host. If everyone at the table is still eating and talking, even if you have nothing to add, the politest thing to do is sit there and pretend interest. I guess it shocks me so much because I have been a part of dinners since that age and still managed to understand that the proper etiquette is to wait until everyone has finished or you have been excused. Or, in the case of college dinners, saying, “Thank you for inviting me to eat with you. I am sorry but I have homework to do and need to get back to it. Let’s do this again!” To leave the table completely and then ignore the hosts is beyond fathomable. That is a complete dismissal of people who have invited you into their home and fed you. That is where the host needed to take charge and failed to do so.

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siamesecat 2965 July 9, 2013 at 9:35 am

I agree with those who say its not rude to at least try some of everything. I have some weird food issues; to the point just thinking about them makes me gag. So if something with any of those ingredients or dishes is served, just looking at it can make me physically ill. So there’s no way I’d even put any on my plate, let alone try it. However, I’ve always said no thank you, and its never been an issue. I despise any kind of cream or white sauce. I was at dinner one time with my then BF, his best friend and fiancee, at his friend’s parents house, and she was so proud she had made fettuchine alfredo, but not in the traditional way. I had seen her make it, nad not only was it cream, it had margerine, which is another trigger for me. I politely declined to have any, but never said “OMG that makes me ill, how disgusting…” or anything like that.

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Seiryuu July 9, 2013 at 9:38 am

“Unless O has a food allergy, he, as a guest, does have a reciprocal obligation to at least taste each of the dishes prepared by the host.”

Absolutely not. Admin, you are forgetting things like religious and personal preferences. You wouldn’t tell/coerce a devout Jew to eat anything unkosher, would you?

Was O a little bit clueless? Maybe.

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admin July 10, 2013 at 8:02 am

I would assume that if you only eat kosher, you will not accept a dinner invitation where the host does not keep kosher. And you would certainly not tell the host upon being asked that you “eat everything” and then refuse to touch foods you previously approved as acceptable fare.

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Gee July 9, 2013 at 9:40 am

People being that hooked to their cellphones/technology is a pet peeve of mine. I remember once when my in-laws were visiting. After 10 minutes, my MIL asked if I could turn on the TV because the “kids” were bored. The kids were ages 13 and up. Really? When I was a kid, we would have been in big trouble if we’d asked to watch television at someone else’s house.

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just sayin' July 9, 2013 at 10:01 am

…then extremely picky eaters should not ask (or accept an invitation) to stay for dinner. it is rude to eat so little and make such a big spectacle of the fact you ate so little. sit down, eat what can/would like to eat, but don’t advertise you are so ungrateful for the food that was provided by being so obviously uninterested in spending time with the people hosting you.
19 years old is not “a kid”–he was old enough to realize getting up from the table was not normal, and then chose to make the whole situation awkward by not even discreetly excusing himself, etc. he chose to make it obvious that his phone was better company than his hosts.

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Amber July 9, 2013 at 10:07 am

I agree that he shouldn’t have left the table.

However, I still disagree that he had to try every dish presented to him. There are some things that people just don’t like to eat, and I think that a good guest would simply politely decline without asking for other foodstuffs, and a good host would let it go. Being forced to eat something the palette doesn’t enjoy can lead to all manner of nastiness (indegestion, gagging, etc) that aren’t necessarily related to allergic reaction. I know, personally, that certain textures can be very difficult for me. I cannot finish anything that feels slimy, too chewy or too gritty in the mouth, as the one time I tried I literally threw up – far more embarrassing for all involved than if I had simply not eaten the offered food.

Also, we don’t know if the kid DID have an allergy to something. OP simply assumed he was being picky. And it’s really unnecessary in a MYOB sense for a guest to indicate that they’re allergic, and it would have been rude for the host to enquire any time during the meal (before the meal would have been fine, because that implies that she’s trying to accomodate him; during the meal implies that she’s giving him the third degree about why he’s not eating).

So – he should have stayed at the table and joined in the conversation, but eating a bite of everything is unnecessary.

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S4R4H July 9, 2013 at 10:11 am

@Lythande: This is an etiquette blog in which rules of etiquette are addressed and discussed. If such rules make you uncomfortable, why subject yourself to them?

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The Elf July 9, 2013 at 10:23 am

I agree, Admin, but I do give a small pass to O for his age. Yes, 19 is an adult. But 19 is still young enough to feel awkward with friend’s parents and to not have learned independently what he should have learned at home. As faux pas goes, this is something easily overlooked for the other pleasures of O’s company.

I think part of the problem is parents these days (starting with the boomer generation). As kids started a lot more after-school and extra-curricular activities, and as both parents began working and keeping different work schedules, and then later as technology became more dominate, the “family dinner” went away. Even when the family sits down to dinner, the TV might be on, or some might be reading or texting, and some might have to leave early for this or that, etc. The end result is there became a division between “family dinner table manners” and “fancy table manners” (reserved for parties, dining out, etc). Maybe this will result in an evolution of cultural standards wherein a lot of laxity is given to family dinners that aren’t given to other dinners.

As for me…. My husband and I – a family of 2 – keep a pretty casual dinner and often watch TV during it at the coffee table. We do a lot of catching up during dinner prep. But when we have guests, it’s dining room and the manners we were raised with, which included exactly what you’ve listed here.

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The Elf July 9, 2013 at 10:28 am

Iridaceae, I think by citing allergies, Admin was refering generally to medical problems. Or at least I hope so! Obviously if something is off your diet for a medical reason, you don’t need to partake. But if your diet isn’t so restricted, then the guest should sample what the host has prepared.

But the host also shouldn’t notice (or at least shouldn’t comment) on what the guest does or doesn’t eat.

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Amber July 9, 2013 at 10:32 am

Lythande’s point made me giggle a bit in understanding. Humans are social creatures, and for the most part our societal rules are arbitrary – what one person is raised with could be deeply offensive or rude for another person based on societal differences.

However, the rules are in place because, for the most part, whatever those rules are, it makes people feel comfortable and safe. It’s hard to realize that we live in a chaotic world where you can technically do anything you want without consequence. Etiquette rules slap the consequence of being perceived as in the wrong onto certain actions, which soothes society as a whole.

Further, a LOT of these rules are basically elaborating on rules that prevented things like, say, murdering your guests or hosts, taking their things and dumping their bodies. Not that it happened a lot, but trust was REALLY important in the old world. Rituals of giving and eating food were meant to bond host and guest in a pact that meant no shinanigans were going to happen. The moral people did this, and threat of ostratication from society kept most amoral people in check, serving and eating food just like everyone else. As society grew less violent, the host/guest bond morphed into a check for rude people, a way to enforce empathy on those who don’t have it.

Now, we can quibble about the ins and outs of what is truly rude (as we are right now – to eat everything on the plate or not?), but the point is, etiquette had a direct effect on the brutality of society. Slapping down rudeness and creating a code, I think, has allowed all of us as a whole to evolve – from random violence to eye for an eye to codes for vendettas to codes for shunning to not inviting Harry over because he complains about what Susan serves every time he comes over.

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NicoleK July 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

I’m a vegetarian. No, I will not be partaking of the steak that is being served. Having said that, I will inform you beforehand that I’m a vegetarian, “Oh, thank you for the invitation… but I’m a vegetarian, I hope that isn’t too much trouble?”

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Pat in Toulouse July 9, 2013 at 11:05 am

Thank you, admin, for this post. I was flabbergasted to read some of the comments… If the guest really doesn’t like what is being served, I believe they should either eat it anyway or give an explanation. “I’m sorry, I don’t eat liver and Brussels sprouts, but I’m fine with eating the rice and onions, thanks” or “I’m sorry, I’m allergic to strawberries, but I’m not hungry anymore, thanks” gives the host a chance to offer the guest a replacement. I believe it is not an obligation for the host to offer another choice, but at least they get the opportunity to do so. Two of my children’s friends don’t eat much of what I serve (vegetables, fruit, meat – they prefer bland pasta, rice or bread), but they were able to communicate that at the age of 12! Also, leaving the table before your host does goes against basic table manners, and at 19, O. should have known that. I agree that the OP missed an opportunity there to regain control over the situation. And the texting part, standing there in plain view, texting instead of interacting with his hosts…, that just takes the cake. How rude! It’s a shame O. wasn’t able to pick up on the clues around him. I tend to think that he was not rude on purpose, though, and that the whole thing was more a matter of bad education.

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Thistlebird July 9, 2013 at 11:24 am

It’s politer to taste everything. I am unfamiliar with the notion that it’s required. (Actually my instincts incline more toward “If you do take some you must finish everything you put on your plate” as being more important.) My family and I always had sit-down meals with table manners, and so do my husband and I even when it’s just the two of us, and when we have people over I do have basic expectations of politeness–it certainly would have bothered me if someone left the table early & started texting–but I’m not offended when someone doesn’t take any salad. (This *could* be because it means there’s more for me…) In fact I hadn’t gotten the impression it was a very big deal to the OP either–I thought it was background information.

I think part of what’s happening here is that so many Americans don’t actually eat together at the table as a family anymore that table etiquette is getting a bit unfamiliar. It was probably unfamiliar to O; likely enough his family just gets things out of the fridge whenever they’re hungry and warms them up in the microwave, etc. He may not have had any practice at staying at the table out of courtesy–being used to moving right to the next thing after he eats, he probably had a low tolerance for boredom/sitting there and trying to think of what to say. I think it’s important for young people to learn etiquette and be able to do this kind of thing, even if there are some situations where they don’t have to use it because it’s agreed that no one expects it.

Lythanda, I wonder if you’re seeing a level of drama & condemnation in all this that isn’t present. Do you really think that “People should try not to do X because it makes other people feel uncomfortable” is dreadful and judgmental? Or are you feeling like people are saying something stronger than that? I personally don’t think we are.

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Ashley July 9, 2013 at 11:24 am

Okay, so what if the food included things he KNOWS he does not like?

Because I’ve been places where you see a nice lettuce salad with all the standard things in it, and then right before the host/hostess brought it to the table, they douse it in some salad dressing that I am literally 100% certain I hate, because I can see the bottle and know that it’s something I find disgusting. Am I obligated to try it anyway even though I can SEE that there is an ingredient in it that I do not like?

Plus there are diet issues at hand here. I have a friend who currently has a lot of severe issues with foods. She has to avoid tomatoes (to the point where if a tomato even touches her other food, she has to get a whole new plate or she will wind up sick), lettuce is sketchy at best, and everything else has to be absolutely organic and pesticide free, or she will end up really sick. So she avoids salad unless she has made it. She’s had people and places think she is rude for refusing but good grief, would they rather she wind up rolling around in pain on the floor because of some apparent social obligation to eat a tomato if it is presented to her in a dish?

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gramma dishes July 9, 2013 at 11:34 am

I’m with previous posters who said there are just certain foods I won’t touch and it has nothing to do with allergies, religious restrictions or personal dietary decisions (e.g. vegetarianism). It’s just that I do not LIKE those foods. Liver and clams come to mind.

I think it is more polite to just take what you either have never tasted before (in a tiny amount) or things you know you like and if you are an active participant in the conversation no one should notice what you have or have not eaten because the topic of conversation is simply so scintillating that there’s no time for plate monitoring. ;-)

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Calli Arcale July 9, 2013 at 11:35 am

I was always taught that as a guest, you are obligated to try a respectable variety* of the food offered unless you have a reason not to (medical, diet-based, philosophical, religious, that sort of thing), and be polite about it; if it tastes nasty, you eat up the stuff on your plate that tastes good, and then feign fullness. You do not leave the table until the meal is over. This is not a peculiar cultural custom, either, as some have indicated above. It’s simple manners that when someone is going out of their way to do something nice for you, you stick around until it is done. It’s like someone taking you to the amusement park, and then you running off on your own at the earliest opportunity — the point of doing something together is the *together* part. And texting or playing video games in front of your hosts who are dining is quite rude. It says “hey, thanks for inviting me to your meal, but Angry Birds is way more fun.” If there is some really awkward conversation or, worse, silence and you just can’t stand it anymore, you ask to be excused to use the restroom, and then do your texting in there. When you feel you can handle the awkwardness again, return, or claim you got a text while you were occupied, and you need to go take care of some family business. Thank them graciously for their hospitality, apologize that you can’t stay longer, and go.

* My family tends to go overboard when there are guests, and there may well be too many dishes for a person to try all of them without feeling like a stuffed turkey afterwards. But if you are a selective eater, this just increases the camouflage for concealing food dislikes. And if you do dislike some of the food, make sure you do not say so! Never say “I won’t eat that because it’s disgusting.” There are gentler ways of putting it, like “It looks fantastic, but I’m afraid that particular dish disagrees with me.”

Now, I understand picky eaters. My eldest is a *champion* picky eater. She’s autistic, too, which means that if she dislikes something, it’s a solid brick wall of dislike. Persuading her to taste everything is not ever going to happen, though I have made some progress. Mostly, though, I’ve successfully taught her what to say. She used to scream “That’s disgusting!” and push it away, but now she just politely declines, and if pressed, says “Thank you, but I’m not hungry right now.” At family meals, she doesn’t say anything at all; she just takes the dish that she doesn’t like and discreetly passes it on. When she’s done eating, she wants to leave the table immediately, but she knows now to ask for permission first and to bus her dish. We’re working on getting her to enjoy conversation longer, but as she is autistic that’s challenging — she’s perfectly verbal, but not really a conversationalist. Plus, she’s only 9. By the time she hits 19, I’m confident she’ll do just fine in this setting. ;-)

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Tsunoba July 9, 2013 at 11:37 am

I’m afraid I must also disagree with the “try some of everything” statement. After my mother and step-father got together, I was introduced to the concept of a “No-Thank-You” helping of foods. But even then, there were some foods I was not required to do that with because my family KNEW that I would never enjoy it. (For example, I cannot stand the texture of melted cheese. The idea of being forced to eat macaroni and cheese actually makes me panic a little.)

At someone else’s house, I might forget that people aren’t familiar with my preferences, and just not take any of the item I don’t want without saying anything. Or, in the case of the salad, I might feel it would be even ruder to pick out items I don’t like, or say that the reason I don’t want salad is because they don’t have any salad dressing I like.

The main issue I have is that I would assume that the host has no problem with my behaviour if they don’t say anything (not even later, in private). Because if I’m doing something impolite, there’s a pretty good chance I don’t know it’s impolite. I hate blaming my Asperger’s for anything, but I’m honestly terrible at reading people, and subtlety sometimes goes right over my head. Being blunt and telling me that I shouldn’t do something (as well as what to do instead) is the best way to get me to change my behaviour.

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Anna Wood July 9, 2013 at 11:46 am

I find it very interesting that everyone seems to fixate on ‘eating as little bit of everything’ and not on the considerable impoliteness of the 19 year old guest. Whether he ate a lot or a little he still had an obligation to remain at the table and contribute to the conversation. As a hostess I am very offended when a guest decides when to end a dinner (party, formal, or family). The ‘rules’ of polite society are in place because we want a polite society. Actually one could say that the rules are more guidelines on how to act. The word ‘rules’ seems to push a rudeness button in a lot of people.
Also, the 19 year old is not a ‘kid’ he is an adult with all the responsibilities that being an adult implies.

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Rodinne July 9, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I think the young man was following the rules he had been taught at home. My guess is that he has been taught to clean up after himself and that it’s rude to use his cell phone at the table. So he didn’t. No, I wouldn’t have liked it either, but I would have liked it more than this weekend, when I was dining with my sister. My youngest niece, having finished her meal, left the table and stood some distance away screaming for her brother, who was still eating, to come help her find videos on YouTube.

Rather than being PA and saying she was sorry he had to leave, the hostess should have kindly and gently invited the young man to return to the table, saying, “In our house, when we are done eating, we remain at the table. Dining is as much about socializing as it is about eating.” She might have added, “I think you will find that many other people feel the same way,” which is as close as you can politely come to informing him his parents didn’t teach him good manners.

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FoodHostage July 9, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I think the host is failing the graciousness test.

House rules may dictate that everyone be held hostage at the table until everyone has eaten an “adequate” portion of everything and the host is ready to allow everyone to leave, but this is not the case everywhere.

“O” does not owe anyone an explanation on his food selection or portion size. Host or not, that’s none of your business. He did not display disgust or insult the food and ate what he took. Doesn’t sound rude to me.

As for excusing himself from the table, did you ever consider that some people have sensory issues with watching other people eat? It’s not so bad when you have your own food to distract you, but chewing, slurping, crunching and swallowing sounds nauseate a lot of people, myself included. Or that perhaps his correspondence was important? Or that your conversation was terribly dull or possibly offensive?

“O” expressed his thanks and excused himself from the table. From what I can tell in the original story, then reassured his friend that there was no need to rush on his account and was content to hang out in the vicinity, if not “at the table”.

If these minor issues are so troubling, perhaps the host can find a tactful and polite way of informing guests of house rules so they can make an informed decision when they’re issued an invitation.

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Harley Granny July 9, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I’m going with the crowd in saying that I don’t think O was all that rude.

The only thing rude was the leaving the table early…he softened that by giving thanks for the meal and didn’t expect anyone to clean up after him. I found this refreshing in a 19 year old.

I don’t know many 19 year old boys that have read Miss Manners. Like others have said…maybe in his home this is acceptable behavior. As for telling the son not to hurry, I took that as “Please…just because I’m finished, please don’t hurry with your meal. I quite ok entertaining myself in the mean time.”
I agree with KarenK this “rudeness” could have all be avoided with her last script.

I also found the OP rude for commenting on what he ate and didn’t eat. I’m just thankful she did not say it to his face.
I detest people commenting on what is or is not on my plate. I find that rudest of all. I just confronted my stepfather about this very thing.

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Brenda July 9, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I agree that O getting up from the table was rude, but there’s context here that’s not being considered. O is 19 but friends with a high school kid, with an emphasis on playing video games. O could very well be somewhere on the autism spectrum, high-functioning Asperger’s level, maybe. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Autistics, among other things, have fewer of the brain cells that cause/allow us to shadow other people’s behavior. They have to learn it, they don’t just automatically copy what other people do. Again, I wasn’t there, I don’t know, but context is important. Also, they’re much more likely to be uncomfortable in group situations. It’s probable that if O and his friend had been the only ones eating that O would have stayed at the table.

Frankly, I remember extremely uncomfortable dinners with friends parents trying to make small talk with me. I got to the point where I started turning down invitations.

Two things: If O has not been taught to stay at the table until everyone is finished, then it’s hardly his fault. And OP could have made an effort to keep him at the table by making conversation.

Another thing: O didn’t want his friend to skip his meal on his account, which is not rude. Telling his friend to finish eating is not an order he gave.

And confusing good etiquette with good manners is a no no.

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EchoGirl July 9, 2013 at 1:21 pm

I think people are focusing on “try a little of everything” because it’s the part most people disagree with, instead of the rest which agreement may go without saying.

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Pam July 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I think he was trying, and I think admin and OP recognize this because of the “polite-rude” title… I think what this story really shows is that most kids just are not taught manners anymore or are in very few social settings that require them to use proper manners. The young man knew it was rude to text at the table, he wanted to be helpful and clear his plate…. He just didn’t get the bigger picture of conversation. What he ate or didn’t eat was irrelevant in my opinion and I don’t think it would have been noticed if he’d sat and visited with his host. Manners 101 should be a required course!

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Ange July 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Quite frankly, after reading the original post, I feel that the OP should also have had a polite spine and told O that, in this house, we all sit together until everyone is finished their meal. My brother used to be one who would rush his way through his food so he could go and watch TV – until my dad implemented the “no leaving til everyone is done” rule. Dinner was more than just food – it was family time.
I don’t agree that you should have to try everything, but at least have the courtesy to stay at the table and attempt to engage with everyone while they eat. O’s behavior was blatantly rude and unacceptable. But I also abhor the wasting of food and feel that this is not just rude, but morally wrong when there are people starving – that may sound judgmental, but I was brought up that “if you take it, you eat it”. That being said, I would also much rather have a situation where someone politely declines a dish than calls the perfectly good food I am serving”gross or disgusting”. I have had someone do that before, and trust me, it is worse than having the food declined!

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startruck July 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm

i guess since i live in a neighborhood with tons of kids and my childrens friends are always running in and out eating and snacking:) i feel the same as i did yesterday .that its not a big deal. i mean i can understand dinner in a formal setting, but i remember being a kid at my friends house and us finishing as soon as possible to go play or what ever it is that a couple of teenagers would do lol. i would rather him be polite and exuse himself from the table, then sitting ther awkardly , not eating and not talking. and honesly , why would you even care? its not like your hosting a dinner party with your friends. this is your sons teenage friend.who would probably rather be eating bricks then having a dinner convo with his friends parents . this falls under the catogory of, live and let live.

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Emmy July 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I’ll also chime in on my opinion of the ‘try everything’ rule. I don’t think a person should take something they know they will not eat for appearance’s sake, although I do think it is nice if a guest is willing to try several dishes. After all, a host isn’t supposed to notice the amount of food on a guest’s plate. It seems like a unnecessary and wasteful song and dance for a guest to take food they know they will not eat, play with the food on their plate (aren’t we told as children that we don’t play with food), and then leave it to show the hosts they had ‘tried’ everything.

The most rude part of O’s behavior was getting up, leaving the table, and texting. It seems he had learned some manners, but not how to be a polite dinner guest. The most rude aspect was getting up from the table early and texting on the other side of the room. It must have been very awkward for the rest of the family. If O had stayed at the table and had been willing to make conversation with his hosts, even if he had taken only certain food items and eaten them quickly, I would not think he would have been rude. I imagine O thought he was polite by thanking his hosts for the food, cleaning his place, and excusing himself without realizing that the most important part of being a guest is actually interacting with the hosts.

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TylerBelle July 9, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I’m on the fence with how a guest should try all of the foods (exception being allergies, vegetarianism, etc.). I think if you know you completely cannot stand a food, then a polite no thanks is all right; although, if you simply avoid it at home but can tolerate it when presented with it, then a small serving/tasting would be proper.

As mentioned, the biggest flaw was the guest’s attitude. Such as leaving the table, directing the son on his behavior, and showing that his phone conversations were more important.

Note to the liver-haters: Pass me your portion if you will :D.

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