I don’t remember how it started, but when I was about 4, I was taught to say “no mention please” every time someone said Thank you to me. Over the years, more items were added to the list of manners. When we visit someone and they offer something to eat, however tasty it is, I was only allowed to take a tiny bit and never a second serve. Often if we were invited for dinner we had to eat dinner at our home, so we won’t pig out at the host’s place. I also had to leave some coffee in the cup ( which was really hard for me to do, for the sugar available in India was really granular and didn’t dissolve completely and  you always found a thick syrupy sugar at the bottom of the favourite)

I remember the time my sisters and I were travelling on Air India flight and we were put up an Centaur hotel in Delhi when our flight was cancelled. It was such an exciting time. My youngest sister being the most adventurous of us all, decided to use the flatware like all the other posh people who were eating in that restaurant. Unfortunately she chose to eat a fried chicken drum stick with a knife and fork. One minute the fried chicken was in her plate, the next minute, it flew across the table.

I met most of my cousins for the first time on my trip to US and since I was only in Philly for 4 days and didn’t have time to visit everyone, I opted to take everyone out for a meal in a western restaurant. ( I have been travelling for 5 weeks on the road and I was dying for something Indian and my cousins didn’t understand why I would want to go out and eat Indian food, when you can eat it at home ! )

This is what I found the person facing me doing. She ordered a burger. First she tried to use the knife and fork and cut the burger, she obviously didn’t do a good job, so she lifted the whole  burger with her fingers and tried to eat it, since it was already butchered with the knife, fillings started to progressively follow the law of gravity. It was such an unholy mess. She is 19, born and raised in US and can’t even eat a burger properly.

In my sister’s case, she spend most of her growing years in India where using a flatware was not part of our life. But if you are living outside India, especially in first world countries where table etiquette is really important, parents ought to teach children how to use a knife and fork.

( btw, just for the record, my cousin’s idea of cutting the burger is fine, you just need to make a neat cut and divide the burger in to 4 quarters or you can simply hold the burger in your hand  and eat)

19 thoughts on “Manners

    • Bipin: you missed the point completely. It wasn’t about me being a gracious host. One of these days, my cousin will enter the work force and will have to attend formal functions/seminar with her colleagues/boss etc, where she will need to used the knife and fork and eat properly. If you live in India, no one bats an eye if you didn’t know to use the knife and fork. The western world isn’t that forgiving and you are judged for the way you behave. Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.” – Clarence Thomas

  1. While My kids are young, still in stages where they will learn manners etc, I put no pressure on them, on learning table manners etc. If they want to eat their chicken with hands, fork, or after dropping on the floor, pick it up and then eat. It is completely up to them, as long as food ends up in their tummies.
    However since both have gone to daycare from early on, and now in school, they use fork, knife, spoon as appropriate. I think it has to do with the culture, In India, culture dictates that food be eaten mostly with hands, and in western world, with flatware. My 3 yr old, usually forbids me, and asks me use a fork, if I pick some of the salad with hands and eat. This is what he has learned. He is no better or worse, than a kid who eats with hands or cannot use fork/knife.
    There are times, when catchup is smeared on their faces (I love watching that) after taking a bite of large burger, they eventually realize, and wipe it off. They have even learned to keep the water cup away from their elbow angel, while eating, after many spill ups, that required them change of clothes, during a meal.
    We never tell them to NOT to eat, when they go somewhere. My 3 yr old loves pomegranates. He spotted only pom in my friends house in fruit basket, that their 16 yr old had opened to eat. I knew that they will be over soon. So I requested that please give ALL the poms to my son. She obliged and gave that one last pom. Next day, I sent a dozen poms to their house, as my gratitude. I think my children are the most precious for me. They understand that they need to treat people and their property with respect. Other than that, if any one thinks they have problem with them, can take a hike. I probably will not be friends/related to them any ways.

    • Joan: you too missed the point. It isn’t about being better or worst from someone who uses or not uses a fork and knife. It is about knowing the manners, especially if you live in the western world, where manners mean everything

  2. What was the person trying to do? Just cut the burger?. I worry about the same when I take my son out.. He doesn’t know to cut well.. But then, he’s small enough that I can get away with cutting his food in restaurants..:)

    • Thumbi: I think she was just overwhelmed by the whole thing of sitting in a posh restaurant and eating. She didn’t know how to use the knife and fork and when to use it. Since it was part of the table setting, she thought she had to use it and opted to cut the burger up, instead of cutting in to quarters, she attempted to cut it like a steak and eat, when that failed and she noticed me eating my burger while holding it, she followed my way..

      • Got you. I guess what you meant to say is usually we eat the burger without cutting it or may be just cut once in the middle no matter where you are- fine dining or otherwise.. Depending on where you are you need to make changes in your etiquette … For all the use of flatware they do in the western world, there are lots of food they eat only with their hands- like hoagies, tacos, fries and chicken wings…:D…But why did she order a burger at a fine dining place?.. :).. Aah.. Everyone has their own choice I guess..

        • thumbi, if you were raised in china,where they eat breakfast pao using their fingers and go for a formal dinner in the evening and eat noodles with your hand.. I am sure you will be judged for your action.. Those around you will think, you have been born and raised in China and yet you don’t know to use chopsticks? no one will be kind enough to think, oh she has a right to eat using her fingers,she is Indian and that is what they do in India. As a parent, we have the responsibility to teach our children basic manners and it is more important in western world than in India. I strongly feel rice mixed with curry using your finger is much more tasty than eating it using a spoon. But I don’t use my fingers to mix the rice when I eat outside because using the spoon and fork is the norm here.. However, i will not be judged if I go to a restaurant in Kerala and ate rice using my fingers ( probably will be judged if I asked for a spoon)

        • S.Paul:
          “Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”
          ? Malcolm X.. When I write, I am hoping for a open the eyes .. To show the bigger picture.. But you need to be able to understand that, but that is the biggest challenge, is it not?

  3. Sarah, here is what I was trying to point out: in the western world manners such as spitting on table matter, not how you handle your own business. I have lived here for 20 years, and have been raising kids, in a high society, and no, no one cares about other people’s business, like we do in India. Here, they rarely care, how people behave, unless it is rude or bothering some else. It is India, we worry about, what that some else is thinking about us/ and try to modify our actions/behavior based on that some one else’s feelings. Here a face full of chocolate is considered “CUTE”. I have not seen whole lots of kids feeling shy of being in posh restaurants etc, because that is part of routine life. That gap is too wide in India, and kids feel who rarely go out to eat/movie/visit a museum once in a life time, they are blinded by them.

    • Joan : I have been living outside India far more years than you and I attend a lot of dinners as part of my professional life. trust me, no one would tell you, you looked cute, when you eat sloppily, on the other hand they will judge you and mock you for you are expected to follow the rules of table manners? I think you are getting confused with messy children and sloppy adults.

  4. The impression I got in the US is that no one cares as long as you are not being rude or offensive. Of course, in a professional setting, we have to behave appropriately.

    • Anitha: I was writing about the professional setting. 19 year old is in the last year of her teenage life, she will be joining the workforce in a few years and if she doesn’t know to eat a meal properly now, when would she learn? Don’t parents have the responsibility to teach children how to use a knife and fork?

  5. I think teaching of manners needs to be a process at home/ school/ community. I don’t see it done in Indian or American homes. Burgers, in particular, (think Sloppy Joes) do not show one at one’s most elegant.

    I know that finishing schools, etc., in the Brit world and in the past, kids were taught all these graces, I.e., how one should sit, what forks to use, etc.

    I remember that there used to be a ‘Miss Manners’ column in most magazines where readers would pose questions on etiquette.

    In the U.S., especially, nobody is brought up being formally taught this. I’m talking the average person here.

    I sometimes believe that it’s nervousness and the feeling that people are observing us and judging us that makes us so klutzy, esp. at the dinner tables. Using fingers can be acceptable if there’s no way to use other utensils. Most of the fine dining establishments, in my experience, typically serve food that can be eaten with accompanying cutlery.

    I think the teaching of manners and etiquette need to be taken beyond the consumption of food, though. Most people agree that talking loudly on a cell phone, especially in public places (a bus, for instance) is inconsiderate – but so many do it. In Japan it is socially unacceptable so people don’t do it. The list just goes on…. Would have to start a blog about this 😉

    For those who need to know how to do what we’ll, there’s the whole web and YouTube out there!!!

    Anyway, point taken, manners are important. Someone with good manners is generally appreciated by others. And for that, we need to be thankful.

  6. The question is “Did you communicate your concerns to the other person and helped her to realise/change ” If the answer is “Yes” I will give this to you…else…

    Note:- Far down the road, we tend to see only what we want to see.

    • John: the question is ” do you practice what you preach?” and the answer is yes, I taught all three of my kids how to use a knife and fork, how to sit and eat properly, how to order in a restaurant and how to enjoy a good meal. All three of my kids can comfortably eat ela shappadu using their fingers and can comfortably eat a steak using knife and fork. I chose to live outside India and it was my duty to teach my children the ways of life where we live and at the same time not to forget their cultural roots. “Small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds” Einstein

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