Thursday, November 28, 2013

Beach Holidays: Thanksgiving!

<<In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it appropriate to pluck from the annals of my military spouse newsletters a column I’d written about the finer points of table etiquette. It jsut goes to prove that I learn something new every day!>>

“Passing Directions…

Which Are in No Way Connected to Driving a Motor Vehicle.”

‘Tis the season…for holiday gatherings which involve too much food and not enough etiquette, much like the one I recently experienced during a large gathering of our navy family.  There were twenty people seated around one long table, which had been festooned with Lenox China, Waterford crystal and more forks, knives and spoons than I knew what to do with.  But despite the formal setting, there were no butlers dancing attendance, so the meal was served “Family Style.”  This requires the passing of the food around the table for each diner to pile mountains of gastronomic pleasures onto their own plate.

I sat waiting—and drooling—for the creamed potatoes and thick gravy to come my way.  But I had to first deal with the peas, offered to me from my right.  I quickly swung them to my left to pass along before so much as on green ball of yuckiness toppled onto my plate.  As luck would have it, at the exact moment, the dinner companion to my left (who was involved in a heated discussion with his companion on his left regarding the BCS championship game contenders) passed the bread basket (without looking), this his right.  And you guessed it…CRASH!  Rolls and peas rained down upon us.  What a mess!  And an even bigger embarrassment!  Which also included a totally ruined meal for me, as good manners dictate that I eat the three peas that landed on my plate (but that’s another etiquette topic for another day…)  Wanting (or more accurately needing) to place blame where blame is due, I consulted the Etiquette Experts.  That is how I learned about Passing Directions.

Per Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners, considered to be the definitive authority on all things etiquette): “Food platters should travel left to right, as most people are right-handed and can serve themselves more easily with the right hand reaching over to the left side.”

So it had been my fault for passing the peas in the wrong direction.

Or not…

Further reading showed that I hadn’t been "wrong” in passing the dish along from the direction from whence it had come, so much as a victim of circumstance.  A circumstance that happens so frequently that Miss Manners addresses it specifically:  “Guests have no responsibility for such decisions <as to which way the food is passed>, as they will encounter a platter already marching along as whoever launched it has seen fit.  If you try to reverse whatever pattern is underway, you will end up with the most dreadful traffic jam, to say nothing of gravy all over your lap.”

I guess I should be grateful I ended up with peas and rolls on me, and not gravy all over my new Coldwater Creek sweater!

As any good journalist does, I Googled for confirmation of this ambiguous rule.  Emily Post (another etiquette guru) concurs that food should be passed counterclockwise.  She goes on to say, “This helps maintain a sense of order at the table while all the dishes are being served.  Exception to this rule:  if someone sitting to your immediate left requests a second helping of potatoes, don’t send the dish all the way around the table.  It’s perfectly fine to directly pass the dish to the left.”

When I grow up to be a Hostess without a Butler, I think I’ll just serve everythign buffet style.  That should prevent any pea or gravy mishaps.  Hmmm, that might raise a whole other slew of problems…like how does one keep a big dog off the buffet table while the guests are eating at the dining table?  No need to Google that one...I think I already know what Miss Manners has to say about that.  

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