growing up, I always said please and thank you to my parent's friends, I chewed with my mouth closed, and I tried my darndest to be super polite. my biggest test of manners was in high school, when I was on vacation with one of my best friends on Martha's Vineyard and we went to a family dinner party. normally, this type of situation isn't too scary, but this dinner party happened to be composed entirely of the Emily Post Society since her step-dad's great-aunt was the great Emily Post and the family business is being etiquette-ly correct.
so I kept quiet, accepted anything that was offered to me, and did my best to smile and not say anything wrong. it got me through that night, but I don't think that as a twenty-something this is how I would like to go about this kind of social situation. looking for a little bit of guidance, I stumbled upon these books in my mom's library. I feel like the rules are much looser in 2012 than in past decades, but I found the guidelines that Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette and Common Courtesy provided to be pretty entertaining.
Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette: America's Foremost Authority on Manners Answers Your Questions and Offers Realistic and Up-to-Date Advice about Correct Behavior in Today's Busy World
How do you get stray bits of food on a plate on to your fork?
A combination of European and American style eating is very usual among sophisticated people and makes it easy for a diner to retrieve skiddy bits of food -- like peas -- on his plate by using his knife in his left hand as a pusher. Once never uses the fingers for this purpose.
Does one open one's napkin in the lap as soon as sitting down at a table, or is it proper to wait until the food is served?
Guests wait until the hostess has taken up hers before placing their own, entirely open if they are lunch-sized, or in half if they are dinner napkins. Napkins are tucked in only for children. They are never refolded; at the end of the meal they are gathered and laid causally to the left of the place setting.
Is it ever correct to have one's elbows on the table when one is eating? I was brought up to think it's not.
It is not correct to put one's elbows on the table when one is eating but it is permissible to rest them on the table between course.
Common Courtesy: in Which Miss Manners Solves the Problem that Baffled Mr. Jefferson
The idea that people can behave naturally, without resorting to an artificial code tacitly agreed upon by their society, is as silly as the idea that they can communicate by a spoken language without commonly accepted semantic and grammatical rules. Like language, a code of manners can be used with more or with less skill, for laudable or for evil purposes, to express a great variety of ideas and emotions.
A major handicap of women in the business world is that while men were taught the difference between social and professional manners -- the phrases 'an officer and a gentleman,' and 'a gentleman and a scholar' suggest that different behavior is appropriate in the drawing room than on the battlefield or even in the library -- women were brought up to have only one set of manners. A woman was either a lady or she wasn't, and we all know what the latter meant.
and now you know.