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English Table Manners and Social
In no respect can American and English etiquette be contrasted more fully than in the matter of the every-day dinner, which in America finds a lady in a plain silk dress, high-necked and long-sleeved, but at which the English lady always appears in a semi-grand toilette, with open Pompadour corsage and elbow sleeves, if not in low-necked, full-dress attire; while her daughters are uniformly sleeveless, and generally in white dresses, often low-necked in depth of winter. At dinner all the men are in evening dress, even if there is no one present at the time but the family.
The dinner is not so good as the
ordinary American dinner, except in
the matter of fish, which is
universally very fine. The
vegetables are few and poor, and the
"sweets," as they call dessert, are
very bad. A gooseberry tart is all
that is offered to one at an
ordinary dinner, although fine
strawberries and a pine are often
brought in afterwards. The dinner is
always served with much state, and
afterwards the ladies all combine to
amuse the guests by their talents.
There is no false shame in England
about singing and playing the piano.
Even poor performers do their best,
and contribute very much to the
pleasure of the company. At the
table people do not talk much, nor
do they gesticulate as Americans do.
They eat very quietly, and speak in
low tones. No matters of family
history or religion or political
differences are discussed before the
servants. Talking with the mouth
full is considered an unpardonable
vulgarity. All small preferences for
any particular dish are kept in the
background. No hostess ever
apologizes, or appears to hear or
see anything disagreeable. If the
omelet soufflé is a failure,
she does not observe it; the servant
offers and withdraws it, nor is any
one disturbed thereby. As soon as
one is helped he must begin to eat,
not waiting for any one else. If the
viand is too hot or too cold, or is
not what the visitor likes, he
pretends to eat it, playing with
knife and fork.
The servants retire after handing the dessert, and a few minutes' free conversation is allowed. Then the lady of the house gives the signal for rising. Toasts and taking wine with people are entirely out of fashion; nor do the gentlemen remain long in the dining-room.
At the English dinner-table, from
the plainest to the highest, there
is etiquette, manner, fine service,
and everything that Englishmen
enjoy. The wit, the courtier, the
beauty, and the poet aim at
appearing well at dinner. The
pleasures of the table, says Savarin, bring neither enchantment,
ecstasy, nor transports, but they
gain in duration what they lose in
intensity; they incline us favorably
towards all other pleasures--at
least help to console us for the
loss of them.
Servants make the round of the table in pairs, offering the condiments, the sauces, the vegetables, and the wines. The common- sense of the English nation breaks out in their dinners. Nothing is offered out of season. To make too great a display of wealth is considered bourgeois and vulgar to a degree. A choice but not over sumptuous dinner meets you in the best houses. But to sit down to the plainest dinners, as we do, in plain clothes, would never be permitted. Even ladies in deep mourning are expected to make some slight change at dinner.
drinks are never offered in England,
nor in truth are they needed.
The carriage etiquette differs from
ours, as the gentleman of the family
rides beside his wife, allowing his
daughters to ride backwards. He also
smokes in the Park in the company of
ladies, which looks boorish.
However, no gentleman sits beside a
lady in driving unless he is her
husband, father, son, or brother.
Not even an affianced lover is
permitted this seat.
France, where they consider English
people frightfully gauche, all this
etiquette is reversed, and is very
much more like ours in America. A
Frenchman always takes off his hat
on entering or leaving a railway
carriage if ladies are in it. An
Englishman never takes his hat off
unless the Princess of Wales is
passing, or he meets an
acquaintance. He sits with it on in
the House of Commons, in the
reading-room of a hotel, at his
club, where it is his privilege to
sulk; but in his own house he is the
most charming of hosts. The rudest
and almost the most unkind persons
in the world, if you meet them
without a letter or an introduction
in a public place, the English
become in their own houses the most
gentle, lovely, and polite of all
people. If the ladies meet in a
friend's parlor, there is none of
that snobbish rudeness which is the
fashion in America, where one lady
treats another as if she were afraid
of contamination, and will not speak
to her. The lady-in-waiting to Queen
Victoria, the duchess, is not afraid
of her nobility; her friend's roof
is an introduction; she speaks.