A short history of table manners

Reading time: 2 minutes

Noblesse oblige but not to table manners!

For a long time, table manners at meal times simply didn’t exist. Even as recently as the Middle Ages, there were virtually no rules, and people ate with their hands. Not until some time between the 16th and 18th centuries did an extensive code of conduct gradually emerge; this has remained largely unchanged to the present day.

In past eras, even palace banquets were not exempt fromunhygienic conditions. So what if something slipped off a spoon or fork—people would simply pick it back up and pop it in their mouth. At least food was served on plates rather than on a slice of bread, as had been the case previously. Napkins were unheard of; instead, the aristocracy would reach for the tablecloth, which soon seethed with sweat and scraps of food and drink. Nonetheless, this was an improvement on the Middle Ages—when people wiped their hands on their clothes and dropped food scraps under the table. To the delight of their four-legged friends. Over the course of time, however, more and more rules were introduced, and people developed short-lived and often highly impractical customs.

The quirks of the upper classes

Take, for example, the bizarre custom practiced by the French aristocracy to set themselves apart from the common people: they would pour their coffee into the saucer to allow it to cool, and then drink it straight from the saucer. But by the time this curious habit reached the commoners in the provinces, the nobility had long since ceased to practice the custom.

The enlightened man more than just manners

The first edition of “On human Relations” by Freiherr Adolph von Knigge was published in 1788. Rumor has it that, not being a friend of the nobility, he deleted the “von” from his name in order to identify better with the common people. Because Mr. Knigge considered nothing to be more important than showing respect and attentiveness to one’s fellow human beings—whether king or farmer. As such, his book falls more into the applied sociology category, though it also deals with tact, courtesy, and table manners.

Not all of these have stood the test of time. But if you want to know more about table manners around the world, take a look at Facebook or Instagram.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *