Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In a Manner of Speaking (or Singing)

Exactly who gets to decide what defines good table manners? In Brazil, blowing or wiping your nose at the table is unforgivably rude, I’ve read that in Ecuador, one doesn’t eat with their fingers and in Egypt if you look at someone else’s plate, they must out of politeness, offer you their food. Who decides all that?

Last month, the Smithsonian’s food blog, Food and Think, issued a writer’s challenge on “Manners”. I didn’t think about it much at the time, but it keeps creeping back into my consciousness after reading their guest posts over the month.

When I was growing up, the ultimate rule in our house (as decreed by my father) was “No singing at the table.” Well, why not? I don’t really remember why my sisters or I would feel compelled to sing at the table, but I do remember being frequently admonished, “We do not sing at the table.” The only worse offense was all the times that in my youthful awkwardness, I managed to turn over my full glass into my father’s plate at dinner. And this happened frequently. So frequently it became absurd. And my mother’s giggles at how ridiculous it became only infuriated my father.He would storm away from the table, and thus I was never punished for this inexcusable behavior.

I digress. Back to the singing. Some people do sing at the table – at church camp we sang “Johnny Appleseed” as the pre-meal blessing, and what about “Happy Birthday” before we blow out the candles? I never told my son he couldn’t sing at the table. But he never did. I loved to hear him sing “The Wheels on the Bus” or “Jingle Bells” in a nasal two-year old voice in the bathtub. If he had wanted to sing at the table he could. Maybe that's why he didn’t-because he could. I loved to hear him sing in the choir in junior high school, in the elite Madrigals and the church contemporary musical group when he was in high school, in his garage band in college and now in the duets he records with his wife.

How can something so joyful as singing be bad manners? If my grandchildren want to sing “The Wheels on the Bus” at the dinner table, I’ll probably sing with them. Forget someone else’s definition of table manners. This is my table.

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