The old rules…

Posted: December 4, 2009 in Culture

I’m sure you’ve witnessed your fellow Americans in restaurants being their true piggish selves. You’ve also of course  witnessed your own family members eating like slobs. I remember as a kid eating with my great-grandfather at our dining room table; maybe it was senility setting in but he used to undo his belt as he rose,  head towards the bathroom and before he got a quarter of the way to the door he’d already have his pants down.

Maybe we should step back in history and take heed of the early medieval books having to to do with proper manners (nobody lived long enough to become senile). A 15th century French etiquette book, Obeying Table-Manners, referenced in Richard Zacks’s “An Underground Education”,  admonishes the eater to “not blow your nose with the same hand you use to hold the meat.” He also quotes another manners book of the time, which advises, “If any snot falls to the ground, quickly smear it over with your shoe.”

The Renaissance also stressed good table manners with etiquette manuals, advising us, for example, considering that people used their fingers to eat with (using only three fingers was considered well-mannered; forked utensils were considered the devil’s pitchfork),  to not touch your hair or put a finger in our nose or ear when tearing off morsels of food, and especially not to touch one’s crotch (or rather, one’s bulging codpiece).

Zacks’s also quotes Giovanni Della Casa (circa 1550), who educates one to not wipe your nose on your handkerchief at the table and then spread it open and “peer into it as if pearls or rubies might have fallen out of your head.”

There were rules about farting too. Very sensible bottom line : though holding in wind can damage your innards, and therefore  is not advised, at least hide them with other, less offensive noises, like bouts of coughing. Another scholar, the famous Erasmus,  advises an even more delicate approach to table “wind” manners, “Do not move back and forth on your chair: whoever does that gives the impression of constantly farting or trying to fart.”

And people dare call that period of history the dark ages.


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