An ill-mannered impeccably Ivy-dressed person is… … … an ill-mannered person. I shouldn’t have to sell you on the idea of wearing Ivy rather than Ivy wearing you, and that the difference between Ivy as cosplay and Ivy as wardrobe isn’t the Ivy, it’s the person wearing it, right?
I am a product of the foster care system and as such inherited, well, nothing. Further, as such, I wasn’t exposed to all that much either. Even before entering high school, I worked 30+ hours a week at a deli. And I will never forget this. We took our breaks out on a loading dock, dangling our feet off of the edge like that Paul Stuart logo.
One afternoon we are out there for lunch and this guy Pete G sits down, throws his feet over the edge and pulls out a sandwich. And a napkin, which he unfolds and places in his lap. I knew napkins go in people’s laps from I guess a movie or something, but what I didn’t know is that real people did that. I always thought of Pete not as a worker but as a person with self-respect and exposure to great parenting. And it was there that I resolved to teach myself “all that stuff.”
No internet in 1978 though. There were books on etiquette but to be fair I had no idea what etiquette was so I didn’t know to get a book on it as such. I knew what manners were though. Deli’s are 50% service industry so manners were taught. Or your got your ass kicked. There are no dining tables in the deli, or at least not the good ones, so I had to wait until I graduated high school, at which time I took some of that deli money and went to a finishing school.
After finishing school I had a gym bag of clothes and a guitar and a scholarship to Iowa. More specifically, a church college in Iowa where there finishing school tips paid off as much or more than anything else. I wasn’t comfortable in the dorms (I spent my adolescence sleeping alone mostly in a 1970 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Station Wagon), I wasn’t comfortable in class (unless it was music or writing), I wasn’t even comfortable in rehearsals (music scholarship). BUT, I was comfortable in front of people in the cafeteria, in front of ALL the people, professors, students, guest lecturers, everybody. There I could talk and joke without the sense that I was somewhere where everyone else knew something I didn’t.
And from all that, this. So I guess I did spend a few seconds selling you. Sorry.
While the table is the sodium pentothal of personal comportment, post undergrad was my first entry into the “real world” where it took more than good dining manners to round out the presentation. And I was going to cobble the manners and the comportment together, but Mr. Hartley was so good at the latter that I will just quote myself on the former in this list, which, if followed, will get you through 80% of things:
- It is okay to put your elbows on the table in between courses. No never do it is almost off putting. To do it during a course is a tell.
- “The really courteous man has a thorough knowledge of human nature, and can make allowances for its weaknesses.” – Cecil B. Hartley
- You know the outside in rule for all that silverware, but what about the fork and spoon on top of your plate? Those are for dessert. You won’t see those much anymore at restaurants. Less silverware=more tables when the Fire Marshall is not present. You will see them though at weddings. Great game, now that you have read this article. Next wedding, as you are seated, look around at the people looking around at people to see what fork to grab first. In this one instance and this one instance only, you want to be the watched.
- “One of the first rules for a guide in polite conversation, is to avoid political or religious discussions in general society.” – Cecil B. Hartley
- Your napkin, if you excuse yourself from the table, goes on your chair, not the table. Enough with your DNA already.
- “Pride is one of the greatest obstacles to true courtesy that can be mentioned.” – Cecil B. Hartley
- Your glass is the one above your knife, which better be on the right hand side of your setting. Their glass is the one above their knife. And so forth.
- “The principal rules of politeness are, to subdue the temper, to submit to the weakness of our fellow men, and to render to all their due, freely and courteously.” – Cecil B. Hartley
- There are two ways to eat. American and Continental. American is where you swap back and forth between your hands the knife and fork. It’s risky. Continental is where you hold the fork upside down in your left hand all the time. It is elegant, it is less distributive, and you get to look like Pierce Brosnan in The Thomas Crown Affair where he is eating a melon the morning after and says, “That depends upon a rather large presumption.”
- “To sum up, it may be said, that if you wish to possess the good opinion of your fellow men, the way to secure it is, to be actually what you pretend to be, or rather to appear always precisely what you are. Never depart from the native dignity of your character, which you can only maintain irreproachable by being careful not to imitate the vices, or adopt the follies of others. The best way in all cases you will find to be, to adhere to truth, and to abide by the talents and appliances which have been bestowed upon you by Providence.”