How to Shine at This Year’s Thanksgiving Dinner

Brush up on your table manners

“And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
And you may ask yourself-Well…How did I get here?” – Talking Heads

You may or may not find yourself in the situations described by David Byrne & co., but if you’re in the US, it’s almost certain you will find yourself sitting down to a grand Thanksgiving dinner later this week. Grandmother and or Mom will break out the fine china and the silverware and in addition to showing your appreciation for all their hard work, you’ll want to show them you’re a gentleman. So today, let’s review table manners.

The main idea

Dinner fork, luncheaon fork, silver, silverware, Thanksgiving

Same as it ever was…

We’ve talked about this before, but the main idea regarding manners is to put the maximum number of people around you at ease. Even if you do something wrong, do not make a big deal of it. If it’s inescapable — for example if you burp loudly and unexpectedly — acknowledge it and apologize with the fewest words possible. Otherwise, don’t call attention to it. Likewise, don’t call attention to the faults of others.

If this is the main holiday meal, make it a point to show up groomed and dressed appropriately. Now, you’re at the table.

What are all these silverware pieces for?

So much of a man’s dining these days is uber-casual, so it can be baffling to sit down in front of what appears to be Aunt Tiffy’s utensil collection. Relax, you can handle this. First: remember the outside-in rule. The pieces in front of you are laid down so you can reach them in the order in which they’ll be used. Too complicated? If salad comes before the entree, your (smaller) salad fork is to the left of your (larger) dinner fork. Your soup or fruit spoon is to the right (outside) your coffee or dessert spoon. See? I told you you can do it.

The napkin

These things don’t require a user’s manual, but here’s the deal: Spread it across your lap the moment you sit down. If you get up during the meal and you’re coming back, leave it folded in your seat. If you’re not coming back, place it beside your plate (not ON the plate). Use your napkin to wipe food residue from your lips (including that Movember work of art) and or your fingertips. If you must cough or sneeze at the table, use it to cover your mouth. But for the love of Mike, do NOT blow your nose into your napkin. In fact, don’t blow your nose at the table. Excuse yourself from the table and go to the bathroom or another room to blow your nose.

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes

Keep all your body parts in their proper places. Sit up straight with your weight on your sit bones and your shoulders back and down. This way you’ll avoid looking like a blob or like you forgot to take the hanger out of your shirt before you put it on.

While the meal is underway, do not rest your elbows on the table — not even one elbow. Between courses, it’s permissible to let one or both hands rest on the table, and even an elbow during after-dinner conversation.

Traffic flow

If your family is like mine, the commencement of the big meal may occur later than you’re used to. In your hunger, the temptation will be to load your plate and devil take the hindmost. If you do this, dish after dish will accumulate at your place, while family members downstream from you will remain unfed. They will fume. This is not good. (Don’t ask me how I know this.) Make it a point to take or not take some of what comes to you, but be sure to pass it to the next person at the table.

Butter your plate, then your bread

If you’re suspending your low-carb eating plan for the meal or the day, here’s how to keep the butter pristine: Slice off what you need and place the pat of butter on your bread plate (at 10 o’clock above your forks) or on the edge of your dinner plate. From there, use your dinner knife to apply the butter to your bread. Break your bread — don’t take a bite out of it. Break off a bite at a time.

Conversation: Keep it Light

You may be a passionate supporter of The Donald. Or of Bernie. Or you may be a member of an anarcho-syndicalist commune. Whatever, dude. When you’re all together around the table, stick to topics that emphasize what you all share. You may be able to persuade Uncle Don to change his political inclination, but I doubt it. He’s a stubborn old guy. But even if he weren’t, the table is no place for an exorcism.

A few extra tips

Chew with your mouth closed
Express appreciation
Say,  “Please pass the _____,” rather than just reaching for it
Include everyone in the conversation — even the little ones

Talk with your mouth full
Take the last roll without asking
Use profanity or talk about sexual or excretory subjects at the table

Bonus tip: Offer to help clean up after dinner. You might even get nominated for sainthood.

So how about you? What essential should I have included? Add your comment below.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Bring your best manners, please.

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