The way we behave is a large part of the image that we project. Our actions have all sorts of repercussions, good and bad, and knowing how to conduct oneself in different situations can definitely work to your benefit.
The point of etiquette is to be considerate of others and make them comfortable by doing the right thing, the polite thing, the things that make people want to be around us. One of those nice things is the ability to work a dining table with grace and mindfulness of our company.
Bad table manners won’t get you another date
Many people have stories about rude dates that displayed behaviour that put them off. A few years ago, I wrote about social and clothing changes since the 1980s and took my influence from Love Connection, a dating show from that era. On the show, several people mentioned manners being important to them but unfortunately, their dates didn’t always politely come through.
For example, Del talked about her date with Donald and explained what it was like to go out to eat with him: “What was embarrassing was at dinner when Donald licked his knife… then he put his lobster shells on the bread tray, then he reached over to my plate and ate my food, so he enjoyed his and mine.”
Surprise! Donald didn’t get a second date.
Speaking of dates, a friend of mine had a date with a woman who was a friend of a friend. From this familiar association, he assumed that she’d be alright. Things may have turned out differently if she hadn’t arrived at their dinner date drunk and then ate from his plate.
I started seeing a fellow several years ago who I liked but because of his ill-mannered ways, I fled and didn’t look back. On our third and final date, we met for breakfast on a Saturday morning. I remember ordering eggs Florentine that came with some sort of potato on the side. He ordered an odd breakfast: salad and fried eggs over easy.
When the food came and we began eating, I had to look away because watching him shovel iceberg lettuce from a fork dripping with egg yolk into his mouth – that he didn’t close while chewing – was a disgusting sight. I was literally put off of my food. I laid my napkin over my plate and what was left of my breakfast.
“Are you going to eat that?” he asked.
“Uh, no,” I replied.
“Mind if I do?”
I should have seen this coming; the second time we saw each other, he came over to cook dinner with me. I keep dried beans, rice, grains, nuts and seeds in jars on a shelf in my kitchen. I had my back turned to him as we chatted and I cooked on the stove. I turned around at the very moment he was about to toss a handful of sunflower seeds he had poured out of one of the jars (without asking) into his mouth.
He didn’t see me again.
Good table manners might
On a first date breakfast with a different fellow, he caught some food in his throat and started coughing. I beckoned the waitress to bring some water for my friend who cleared the block with a sip of water and appreciated my gesture.
I got a second date and I felt classy.
Bad manners can cast a bad light on your person
I had to meet a client in a shopping mall food court one day. Behind my client was a very large man who I couldn’t help but notice as he stuffed mounds of processed food into his greasy mouth, then stuck a fat, oily index finger into his hole to dislodge the food from the inside of his cheeks.
What can I tell you? It was sickening to watch but I found myself unable to tear my eyes away, like I was looking at a car wreck. The state of this man, what he chose to feed himself with and how he administered it made me wonder what he could possibly do for a living. Without meaning to, his bad behaviour made me question his intelligence and his sense of self-worth.
Good manners make us glow
Polite people always leave a good impression; we tend to like people with good manners because they are considerate of us and that makes us feel good; it seems to me that good etiquette breeds trust in other people.
THINK: How do you feel towards the person ahead of you who let the door slam in your face? The woman on the streetcar who offers her seat to an elderly lady? The man who allowed you in front of him in the grocery store line up because you had fewer items?
Bad table etiquette = employment suicide
I spoke to Catherine Bell, one of Canada’s premier etiquette specialists at Prime Impressions about manners. Catherine says that poor dining skills are the result of either one’s upbringing (where proper dining etiquette was not a priority), or the rejection of what are perceived as empty rules of behaviour that no longer matter. She told the story of a student who blew his chances at post-graduation employment because of his bad manners:
This particular student won an award for his marketing skills at college. At the awards banquet, someone from the marketing company who was giving this young man the award, leaned over to the professor in charge of the class and said that they would not be hiring him. When the mystified professor asked why, the marketing executive said, “It is because he brings his face down to the food, not the food up to his face.”
The job entailed entertaining clients over meals.
* * *
Exercising good manners is a choice. Some people shrug and scoff at etiquette and say, “that’s just the way I am” or “if you don’t like me, you can (fill in the blank)“. Fair enough. But if you decide to reject the etiquette, think about what you’re doing and what you could be losing out on, not to mention the lasting impression you’re leaving on other people.
The way I see it, if a person decides not to exercise polite manners, that individual is waving off consideration for others which ultimately reflects how other people see that person. It also seems an indication of how that person regards himself, like the man in the food court. It’s about respect for others and for oneself – if we don’t respect ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to?
Remember, we only get one chance to make a first impression and if we blow it the first time, we may not get another go at it.