A guide to good table manners
As Kenny Rogers might have sung (if he’d developed an interest in napkins instead of cards and gambling and the like), “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Yes, sir, you certainly do. You might have mistakenly thought you’re shit-hot sophisticated just because you’ve mastered knives on the right, forks on the left and spoons on the outside, but napkins take it to the next level.
Napkins have been in use for thousands of years and, as with most human pursuits that have been around that length of time, forests of ridiculous rules that can be employed to make folk feel inadequate and uncomfortable surround them.
Just as there is with wine, food, gangsters, royalty and morning ablutions, there is such a thing as napkin etiquette.
This etiquette has evolved over time; for example, the ancient Romans used unbaked pizza dough to wipe the crud from their mugs. By the time of the Renaissance, the French employed a massive communal napkin that everyone at the table used. As time passed they realised this was bloody feral and downright disgusting.
Eventually, sanitation prevailed and everyone got a little napkin of their own.
Not happy with having invented just a practical face-wiping device, the French then decided to concoct napkin etiquette, which has endured, like a nasty brown stain, until the present day.
And so it is that tucking a napkin into your shirt is the dining equivalent of wearing an incontinence nappy to sexy time and, as far as some are concerned, hopping off your seat to rub your butt on the deep pile carpet is classier than using your napkin to wipe your nose.
These rules say you must place your napkin in your lap as soon as you sit down at the table. That said, if there is a host, you must wait for them to place the napkin in your lapkin. This is all about perfect timing and vigilant spatial awareness. Imagine the horror if you were to sit down, place the napkin in your lap yourself and then realise that there is in fact a host! It’s enough to make you shit your pants, although to do so would only compound the situation.
The manner in which you unfold your napkin is also vitally important.
If there is no host and your bowels, your dignity and your underpants remain intact, you must not snap your napkin or shake it open like a magician. No, no, no. You should smoothly unfold your napkin, treating it with as much care as the hapless victim of the skits treats the last piece of toilet paper, before gently placing it in your lap.
It is also a fact that you should use your napkin frequently during the meal to pat or blot your lips, rather than crudely wipe them. To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven and so on and so forth.
Heads up! If a napkin ring is used, don’t panic! Simply place the ring to the top-left of the setting after smoothly pulling out your napkin. When you’ve finished shovelling food into your cakehole, firmly grasp the napkin in the centre and pull it through the ring. Show no mercy. Squeeze that sucker through like you are pushing your junk into spandex, and then lay it on the table with the point facing the centre. Phew. Etiquette followed and job well done.
A Guide to Good Table Manners by Edmund Burke for Lunch Lady Magazine Issue 5