Table manners in 1939


Etiquette in 1939 pic


How does one know which knife and fork to use when there is an unusually big array at an important dinner ?

No difficulty arises if one remembers that the various knives, forks and spoons are laid in the order in which they will be required, beginning with those on the outside.

When the dinner starts with hors d’oeuvres—those tasty morsels of smoked salmon and sardine, Russian salad and the like—the appropriate silver knife and fork will be placed on the plate. Similarly a fork will be supplied with the plate, or found on the extreme right of the silver, if oysters come first.

Soup is taken with the large spoon found on the right. Next, to the right and left, you will find the fish knife and fork, then a fork, or knife and fork for the entrée, according to its nature. Following will be the large knife and fork for the meat or poultry course, a spoon and fork for the sweet, and finally a knife for cheese.

When dessert is served a small knife and fork will be handed to you with the dessert plate.

Should you by any mischance pick up the wrong knife or fork—or both—do not feel terribly embarrassed. Just ask the waiter quietly for another set when the course arrives for which the utensils were intended.

The dessert course always worries me at a dinner —and generally on that account I refuse it! How should one deal with apples, pears, bananas and so forth?

Apples and pears are held on the dessert fork and peeled with the dessert knife. Then the fruit is cut into quarters, the core removed and smaller portions cut if desirable.

Peaches and similar fruits are held on the fork and skinned with the knife. The fruit is cut into halves, the stone removed with the aid of the knife and fork. Bananas are peeled with knife, cut into pieces and eaten with the fork. Grapes are squeezed into the mouth singly, the skin being kept in the fingers. The fork should be placed to the lips to receive the seeds.

I have noticed that some people use a fork and spoon for the sweet course in a dinner, while other use a fork only. Which is correct ?

Whenever the nature of a dish permits, a fork only should be used. This applies not only to sweets but also to other courses. When the entree, for instance, is a patty or the like, that should be eaten with a fork. A spoon should never be used alone; always use a fork as well, even for such dishes as custard and milk pudding.

With most of the courses of a dinner the procedure is obvious. Others are not so simple to deal with. How should one eat oysters, for instance, or asparagus?

Oysters are served in the shell, with the shell opened. Removed the shells from the oysters first, and place them I the centre of the dish. Do not lift the shell from the plate; steady it with your left hand as you take the oyster with the right. Then eat the oysters with the small fork provided. Asparagus is eaten in the ordinary way with the knife and fork. It is not lifted with the fingers, as was formerly the case.

Occasionally curry is served as an entrée. It should be eaten with a fork only, if possible. Otherwise a spoon may be used as well, but not a knife. When salad, to be eaten with poultry, is served on a separate plate it should be eaten from it and not removed to the meat plate.

At a dinner I have noticed that some guests fold up their serviettes ( or should one say table napkins?) while others crumple them up. Which is correct ?

At a dinner or on any occasion when the table napkin ( that is the proper name) will only be used once, it should be crumpled up at the end of the meal. Should you be staying at a friend’s house for such a period that you will be taking two, three or more meals, the table napkin should be folded. Usually a ring will be at hand for your use. Similarly when staying at an hotel or boarding house, the table napkin should be folded at the end of each meal.

When should the guests at a dinner take their seats?

It depends on the nature of the dinner. At a private function the guests stand behind their chairs until the hostess has taken her seat, then each gentleman holds the chair for his lady and sees her comfortably seated before he sits down. At a public dinner grace is usually said while the company are standing behind their chairs. Then the sit , each gentleman again making his lady comfortable first. If there is a toast-master he will usually give the signal after grace by announcing : ‘ Ladies and gentleman, pray be seated”.

Oh no! I think I ate my rice pudding with just a spoon at the Robinson’s last month. No wonder they don’t speak to me any more.

Another classic piece of valuable advice from Everybody’s Best Friend (Odham Press) n.d. but c 1939. [R. Healey]


3 thoughts on “Table manners in 1939

  1. Rawdon Crawley

    I was having a meal – less elaborate than the one imagined here – where my very aged hosts treated the fruit for dessert in exactly the ways described here.

  2. Rawdon Crawley

    And – of course – I eat my peas with honey;
    I’ve done it all my life.
    It makes the peas taste funny,
    But it keeps them on the knife.


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